St. Scholastica DNP Students Present Research on Integrating Behavioral Health into Primary Care through Telehealth in Rural Minnesota

Thanks to the folks at Wilderness Health for sending info on this interesting research. Finding a way to make it easier to get mental health care in rural areas would reap benefits…

The College of St. Scholastica’s Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) Students, Madison Mack, RN, BSN and Rachel Barger, RN, BSN, presented their research on “Implementing a Primary Care Behavioral Health Integration Model into Telehealth Visits in Rural Minnesota” to the Wilderness Health Telehealth Committee on December 8th.

Mack and Barger’s research follows previous studies done by fellow DNP student, Kerry Reuter. Reuter’s research focused on the benefits of and barriers to accessing telehealth in rural areas of MN. The CSS DNP students work seeks to take telemental health to the next level in the region served by Wilderness Health members and fellow care providers and community groups in the Arrowhead.

Mack and Barger’s research and curiosity were fueled by the barriers to accessing mental healthcare in rural Minnesota. These include stigma, confidentiality issues, shortages of mental health care providers, cost of care, and a lack of transportation resources. They noted that “rural patients travel nearly three times longer to seek mental health care than those in urban areas.”

The proposed model by Mack and Barger aims to reduce these barriers through an integrated primary care behavioral health approach utilizing telehealth. They focused on the interaction between physical and mental health and suggested that primary care providers like family doctors and nurse practitioners work hand in hand with mental healthcare providers to care for the whole person. Telehealth technologies can help bring these behavioral health specialists into rural clinics virtually. Mack and Barger’s Northeastern Minnesota Resident survey included participants from Lake, Cook, St. Louis, Itasca, and Koochiching Counties and found that 87% of respondents believed NE MN residents would benefit from tele-mental health visits.

Mack and Barger shared their insights about best practices with the Wilderness Health Telehealth Committee, bringing together community mental health and equity advocates, healthcare professionals within and outside the Wilderness network, IT, compliance, billing, and other administrative specialists.

Wilderness Health works with its nine member partners on a variety of initiatives to improve rural health in Minnesota. Wilderness Health was named the 2022 Minnesota Rural Health Team Award winner by the Minnesota Department of Health for its outstanding work improving patient experience, advancing patient and community health outcomes, lowering costs, and enhancing the care team.

Next Steps
The work is only beginning. Wilderness Health plans to work with incoming DNP students from the College of St. Scholastica to further research and implement access to care through telehealth in rural areas.

This entry was posted in Healthcare, MN, Research by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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