Healthcare in Rural Areas

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46 million Americans live in rural areas, and they’re more likely to face a wide range of healthcare challenges compared to their urban counterparts.1

These challenges can be rooted in economic, social, racial, and geographic factors. They can also be exacerbated by factors related to the delivery of healthcare services.

Affordability is the biggest challenge for healthcare in rural areas. In fact, a recent study found that more than one-third of rural residents report skipping needed medical care because of cost. That’s double the rate for rural residents in six other high-income countries.

Another hurdle is a lack of healthcare professionals in rural areas. A shortage of qualified doctors and nurses is a nationwide issue, but the problem is particularly acute in rural communities. As a result, many rural medical facilities are unable to stay financially viable. This makes them more dependent on short-term travel nurses and doctors and on overtime, which drains resources that could be directed toward recruitment efforts.

Some experts have suggested changes to the way that healthcare facilities are funded and regulated. For example, some advocates support repurposing large critical-access hospitals as smaller emergency centers or outpatient care centers. This would allow each rural community to use its healthcare professionals more efficiently, while providing patients with greater access to specialty and sub-specialty services. It would also provide more clerkship training sites for medical students, which may encourage more physicians to choose careers in rural medicine.

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