Conducting Community Health Needs Assessments in Rural Communities: Lessons Learned

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Abstract

The Affordable Care Act of 2010 requires all nonprofit hospitals in the United States to conduct a Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) at least every 3 years. With this law in its infancy, the best practice to conduct an assessment that complies with the law is unknown. Research designs vary across states and agencies, and little is known about the reliability or representativeness of results. The rural community group model (RCGM) is a newly developed model designed for conducting assessments in rural communities. Key components of the model are disseminating surveys, conducting key informant interviews, facilitating focus groups, and integrating secondary data of county-level health behaviors and outcomes. It has been used to conduct CHNAs on more than half the critical access hospitals in North Dakota (58%). Given this large sample size, which used the same methodology, this article provides an evaluation of the model focusing on lessons learned and challenges encountered in the conduct of CHNAs. Particular strategies for assessment planners are warding off group think, monitoring against bias creep in data collection, and integrating multiple data sources to inform decision making. The model is recommended for replication in rural settings to provide meaningful feedback that allows a hospital to match long-term planning with community needs.

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