While healthcare, in general, is a hot topic today, health care surveys are looking more at healthcare concerns specific to rural areas. That is largely due to the fact that most Americans live in urban areas and so most funding goes to metropolitan and suburban populations. People who live in rural areas tend to be poorer, older, less educated and less served by healthcare systems. They also are disproportionately dependent upon public health benefits.
Lack of Access to Health Care
In a recent survey of health care in rural areas noted in the US Library of Medicine, the issue most-cited is access to health care. Only nine percent of doctors and 16 percent of nurses practice in rural areas. Many of those begin their careers in the smaller hospitals and then soon leave, creating a problem in the continuity of care. Rural residents often must travel long distances to see specialists. In addition, patients with life-threatening injuries or illnesses are often transported by ambulance or air-ambulance to metropolitan hospitals away from family and other support systems. Dental health, vision problems and care for mental and emotional issues are often neglected because of the lack of nearby facilities.
Effect of Medicaid and other State Reimbursements
According to the Center for Rural Affairs, the number of non-elderly rural residents depending upon public health insurance plans is increasing rapidly. Still, many rural people and small businesses don’t qualify for many of the plans. That is a problem because these communities tend to have more small businesses and independent workers such as farmers. Healthcare in rural areas is hampered because facilities are affected by this dependence upon public funds; the reimbursement rate is lower than private pay. Because of this disparity, they can’t recruit medical personnel, maintain high-quality care and afford medical technology.
The Aging Population
There are more elderly people living in rural areas. That means the communities inherently have more health problems associated with aging. Many rural residents have limited mobility due to emotional or physical issues. They live alone or with a caretaker who may also be elderly. Rural areas need more healthcare programs and social opportunities for these residents. The communities are often lacking in wellness programs for the elderly as well.
High Proportion of Accidents
Rural residents are at greater risk for traumatic work-related injuries. Rural economies often depend upon agriculture, and that industry is one of the most dangerous in the US according to the Centers for Disease Control. In addition, farm workers are exposed to hazardous chemicals that can eventually cause debilitating conditions and even cancer.
Mental and Emotional Health
The lack of healthcare professionals working in rural areas also affects the treatment of people with emotional problems or those who abuse substances. Residents of rural areas have a higher percentage of individuals abusing alcohol, tobacco, and methamphetamine. Use of opioids is on the increase as well. Health professionals attribute this phenomenon to the lower educational level of rural residents, isolation, lower income levels and unemployment among other factors.
Although there is a healthcare crisis in cities as well as rural areas, the type of problems in rural areas differs. People in rural areas may experience many of the same problems their city cousins have, but they have less access to care. Additionally, the quality of care may be lower because rural facilities are smaller, with fewer resources and less income to use for improvements. There are many studies about healthcare concerns specific to rural areas, and the government is looking at the way they can change funding for healthcare delivery services that will erase the disparity between these communities and metropolitan areas.