NiceX: Sanford – Ideas to Improve Rural Healthcare

Exploring the Future of Healthcare in Rural Communities

According to the CDC, people living in rural communities are more likely to die from the five leading causes of death than their urban counterparts. They are also at a higher risk for a host of mental illnesses. To address these disparities, The Nice Center hosted the NiceX: Sanford Health Idea Challenge.

The goal of the idea challenge was to come up with ideas to ensure rural areas have access to the same healthcare benefits that urban communities enjoy. The shared interest in helping rural communities achieve better health outcomes drove a broad range of experts and students to join a four-hour Zoom call on a Friday afternoon. 

Partnering with Sanford Health

We began the afternoon in breakout rooms to crack the collective ice and for participants to get to know who their collaborators might be. Then, the expert guests were introduced to the group. These experts included doctors, nurses, IT workers, internship organizers, engineers, and community relation managers. Dr. Jon Ulven, the department chair of adult psychology at Sanford, and Dr. Chad Ulven, his brother and a professor of mechanical engineering at NDSU, gave a keynote addressing the engineering process and an outline of some of the problems in rural healthcare.

After that, everyone was invited to share their preliminary ideas to address the healthcare problems that people in rural areas may face. Dozens of ideas were pitched to the group. Each idea was summarized on a virtual sticky note, and then a group-wide vote was conducted to determine which ideas would move forward.

The initial ideas were:

  1. Increase access to and use of telemedicine in rural areas
  2. Create transport system that allows machines to get to people easier – or vice versa
  3. Use virtual reality to expose more rural students to healthcare fields and spark interest in those career paths
  4. Create a mental health curriculum for schools to help combat childhood mental illness 
  5. Increase EMS (Emergency Medical Services) availability in rural areas
  6. Focus on prevention of illness through lifestyle education

These ideas were then made the focus of breakout rooms where interested participants could join and discuss the details of said topics. Teams further developed their ideas for two hours before rejoining the larger  group to pitch their ideas, and hear the pitches of other groups.

Refined pitches for each idea were: 

  1. Create an app that is focused on telemedicine – virtual visits, health tips, etc. Educate patients on how to use the app. Incentivize use of the app through insurance discounts.
  2. Design trailer that makes transportation of machinery easier. Bring advanced and heavy equipment to town for screening events that people can easily attend.
  3. Make YouTube videos about the benefits of a healthcare career and share with students in rural areas. Eventually upscale this to be a virtual reality simulation that let students experience the healthcare setting in a very realistic way.
  4. Develop and deploy mental health education to expecting parents and parents of very young children that addresses the mental health hurdles the child is likely to face in the coming years. Create a curriculum that can be introduced at the child’s first wellness check. 
  5. Expand EMS presence in rural areas. This will be done through grants that can be used to fund the training of new EMS workers. The Sanford Apprentice Program will be used to foster interest in EMS-related fields. In addition, investment in drones to do some healthcare tasks like lab sample retrieval. 
  6. Set up a “Healthcare Navigator” position in the healthcare system. This person would focus on the personal side of medicine and would have conversations with the patient about wellbeing and healthy lifestyle choices. This position is necessary due to physicians and nurses simply not having enough time to have these conversations with the patients. 

Moving Forward

The groups will now have the chance to further explore and develop their ideas with support from Sanford Health and The Nice Center. There will be a final showcase on November 19th at Innovation Day, hosted by The Nice Center at NDSU, which will include pitches from NDSU’s Innovation Challenge, the Nice Leap program, the Nice Idea challenge, and more. 


Posted on September 29th, 2020 by Zach Johnson in News and Stories