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What is a rural health network?

A rural health network is a collaboration among rural health care providers that pool resources and identify means to achieve common goals and objectives.  A rural health network usually includes at least one rural hospital and links two or more autonomous organizations.  The connections among the parties may or may not be based on formal agreements. 

The characteristics of the network in terms of governance, complexity, and scope of objectives also differ among networks.  The shared functions of the network depend on the nature of the rural health network.  Some popular functions include: pooling financial resources to support network ventures (including health IT), supporting common legislative and regulatory advocacy activities, and developing continuing education programs.      

A rural health network may be described as being either horizontal or vertical.  Horizontal networks consist of similar types of organizations that serve similar markets, such as an all-hospital network or an all-community center network.  Vertical networks are comprised of organizations from different classes or with purposes that may or may not serve the same geographical area.  For example, members of a given vertical health network may include a hospital, an ambulatory care provider, a public health unit, ambulance system, and a nursing home. 

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