As of 2016, rural areas cover 97% of the United States’s land, and about 47 million adults live in them. Yet, Americans living in rural areas struggle to lead healthy lives because of less access to education, economic factors, and social differences. The CDC has reported that “those who live in rural areas of the United States are on average older, poorer, and sicker than those living in urban areas.”
A significant cause of health disparities in rural areas is “sheer isolation.” Rural inhabitants lack access to healthcare facilities and resources, but also face social isolation, which researchers have found accounts for the same degree of health implications as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Here are some other sobering facts about social isolation:
Poor relationships lead to a 29 percent increase in risk of coronary heart disease
Social isolation leads to a 32 percent rise in the risk of a stroke
Being unmarried, having few friends, having strained relationships, and living alone are all risk factors for premature mortality.
Social isolation affects many people, from those that are physically impaired to those who are retired, and a chief group of those at risk include people living in rural areas. According to new CDC data, the life expectancy of those who live in rural areas is continuing to decrease.
Addressing this problem means addressing social isolation.
As the former administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services said, “If we want to achieve health for our population, especially vulnerable people, we have to address loneliness.” According to the Gerontological Society of America, “as a force in shaping our health, medical care pales in comparison with the circumstances of the communities in which we live. Few aspects of community are more powerful than is the degree of connectedness and social support for individuals.”
The problem is that connecting people in rural areas has never been easy. There’s simply less opportunity to socialize, especially when getting to one another requires a car ride -- not something that those who are economically disadvantaged, older adults, those who are disabled, or many others are capable of arranging.
Luckily, technology is starting to tackle social isolation. Social media is connecting people in rural areas in ways that old school tech couldn’t--by instantly providing updates, photos, and videos of loved ones and community members. Some new technologies even connect people who don’t already know each other, expanding social circles and therefore social connectedness.
For example, OneClick.chat’s events platform creates uniquely interactive webinars by breaking the entire audience into small groups to meet each other, tackle a task, or just chat about something they enjoy. This functionality allows those that are socially isolated to meet new people virtually without ever having to leave their homes.
Currently, the platform is being tested with the National Institutes of Health to assess the effects and accessibility for older adults with and without mild cognitive impairment, but the implications for those in rural areas (and therefore those at high risk for social isolation) are significant and can’t be ignored.
Of course, for any technology to be successful for rural residents, it needs to be:
Simple: Designed with and for older adults, OneClick.chat’s video chat interface is as easy to use as they come.
Flexible: Accessible across all types of mobile and desktop devices, OneClick.chat doesn’t require its users to have a certain device--just one click, and any user can instantly join a live event from anywhere in the world.
Accessible: Accessibility is so important to us, we wrote a whole blog post about it. We’re in the business of making video chat accessible to everyone.
There are still hurdles to face when it comes to connecting the socially isolated in rural areas. For one, a reliable Internet connection can be tricky to obtain. However, the FCC’s announcement of a $2 billion broadband expansion is a step in the right direction. We’re optimistic about the future and already looking for ways to implement our platform in this space.
To try a free event with OneClick.chat or to learn more, click this link.