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Obama: Health Tech, Broadband Key To Rural Development

Administration's new council focuses on technology to spur economic growth for the 16% of Americans who live in rural areas.

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An Obama administration effort to coordinate federal programs for rural America is counting on healthcare technology and broadband Internet to help improve access to care and support economic development for people in rural areas.

Among the 10 "key factors for growth" that the new White House Rural Council will consider are the growth of health IT systems to expand access to quality healthcare, and the promotion of President Barack Obama's plan to "increase broadband opportunities" in rural communities, according to a White House press release. Obama created the council Thursday by executive order.

"The White House Rural Council will focus on actions to better coordinate and streamline federal program efforts in rural America, and to better leverage federal investments. The collaboration will result in better programs and services in rural communities and maximize the benefits of those programs," Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack wrote on the White House blog.

Vilsack will chair the council. The heads of at least 25 additional federal departments and agencies, including Department of Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Veterans Affairs secretary Eric Shinseki, also will serve on the council.

According to the executive order, the White House Rural Council will attempt to "increase the effectiveness of federal engagement with rural stakeholders, including agricultural organizations, small businesses, education and training institutions, healthcare providers, telecommunications services providers, research and land grant institutions, law enforcement, state, local, and tribal governments, and nongovernmental organizations regarding the needs of rural America."

Further details were not available, but the Kansas City, Mo.-based National Rural Health Association expressed its support for the inclusion of healthcare among the council's priorities. "NRHA is pleased the White House is focused on improving the lives of the 62 million Americans who call rural home," the organization said in a blog post.

The estimate of 62 million rural residents would encompass about 20% of the nation's 310 million people. The White House said that 16% of Americans live in rural counties.

The Healthcare IT Leadership Forum is a day-long venue where senior IT leaders in healthcare come together to discuss how they're using technology to improve clinical care. It happens in New York City on July 12. Find out more.

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