Implementation strategies and considerations will differ depending on the rural oral health program model implemented and other key program components. Unique implementation considerations are described for each program model (see Program Models). The cross-cutting issues to consider prior to implementing a rural oral health program are described below.
While oral health programs can help to fill unmet needs in rural communities, it is critical to consider the demand for the program or service that will be provided. In some rural communities, it may be necessary to advertise and promote the available services. For example, a mobile dental services program advertises its services on the radio and on the side of the van itself. In other communities, the need for care may outpace the program’s ability to serve the population with the available resources. The program should consider these issues carefully and identify a strategy in the event that the program cannot provide required services (e.g., referral network of providers).
It is essential to identify and understand the priority population before implementing a rural oral health program. Programs serving schoolchildren may require a different set of strategies than programs serving migrant farm workers. A dental clinic program may need to provide on-site child care for patients with young children. With an understanding of the priority population, it is possible to determine the program model, size, scope, and resource needs.
Successful rural oral health programs attribute their success to the strong collaborations that they have with community partners, such as clinics and local organizations. Partners and allies can help to increase awareness of the program in the community, play a role in program activities, and participate in sustainability planning and evaluation.
It is critical to consider and plan for short and long-term sustainability of the program. Sustainability planning may include identifying funding sources for the future. Sustainability planning may also include thinking about how to continue to develop staff, for example, by providing ongoing staff trainings about the current issues facing the target population. See Module 4 for more information about sustainability planning.
Evaluation presents an opportunity to assess program results and identify ways to improve program performance. Developing an evaluation plan and building evaluation instruments at the outset will make it easier to measure the outcomes of the program. Some rural oral health programs have noted that they did not spend enough time on evaluation when they implemented their projects, and they would have benefited from earlier planning. See Module 5 for more information about program evaluation.
For additional considerations regarding program implementation, see Implementation Considerations in the Rural Community Health Toolkit.