Though rural Americans have more chronic health conditions than those who live in urban centers, they have poorer access to health care, a working paper released last month confirms. Health experts are pointing to technology, including telemedicine, to help bridge the gap.
The paper was compiled by the UnitedHealth Center for Health & Reform Modernization, an arm of the nation’s largest health insurer. It found “there are only 65 primary care physicians per 100,000 rural Americans — 40 or so less than the 105 per 100,000 urban and suburban Americans,” Molly O’Toole of Reuters reports. “Already five million rural residents live in ‘shortage areas’ defined by the government as counties with less than 33 primary care physicians per 100,000 residents.” The problem intensifies when it comes to specialists, with rural areas having fewer than half the number of surgeons and other specialists per capita.
Kentucky is one of the more rural states, with the latest U.S. Census numbers showing that about 42 percent of its population lives in rural areas.
The study incorporated results of a survey of about 3,000 patients and primary-care physicians. It found drug abuse and teen pregnancy are bigger concerns in rural areas than in cities. Rural people tend to think their local health care is lower in quality than in urban centers. In many instances, they’re right. “UnitedHealth confirmed this ‘equality deficit’ is supported by data showing that in 70 percent of markets, rural quality of care was measurably worse than in urban areas,” O’Toole reports.
To remedy the situation, the report advises expanding the role for nurse practitioners and incorporating more mobile health clinics, technology such as telemedicine and preventive care into health care. (Read more)