Geographic Access Barriers
Key Questions (by Marie Pantojan)
The issues surrounding the geographically determined disparities in health care access and quality are not generally front page headlines on the national news. These issues are, however, affecting approximately 20% of the nation’s population – those who reside in non-metropolitan counties, collectively referred to as Rural America. The residents of these counties have a higher chance to report fair or poor health and suffer more often from chronic conditions than their urban counterparts. (Refer to the fact sheet by the AHRQ for a good idea of health care disparities and rural health.) In particular, rural and frontier counties in the Midwest experience a large disparity in access to care, where there is a sparse distribution of general hospitals available in a very large area of land.
The hospitals that are located in Rural America are often at a disadvantage from urban hospitals. For example, information technology can be a potential tool for increasing the quality of health care, but studies have shown that rural hospitals have difficulty implementing IT systems. The Journal of Rural Health released an articlethat puts health care on a continuum, and proposes ways for improving the quality of and access to health care in Rural America.
The Journal of Rural Community Psychology is dedicated to the dissemination of information related to the sociological, psychological and mental health issues in rural and small community settings. To get a good grasp of the general problem, the APA’s article “Beyond Urbancentrism” is a great issue brief. Little is still known, however, about the differences between depression management care in rural and urban areas – but this issue is explored in a report published by the Journal of Rural Health.
- Medicare pays rural doctors less per procedure than urban physicians since their operating costs are generally less. Consequently rural doctors are less likely to accept Medicare patients.
- Nationally, 22.5 percent of primary care doctors practice in rural areas, which roughly corresponds to 24 percent of Medicare patients living in such areas.
- 83 percent of American Academy of Family Physicians take new Medicare patients, but there is an overall shortage of primary care doctors that makes it difficult for Medicare patients to find a family doctor.
- The American Association of Medical Colleges claims that rural areas need 20,000 primary care doctors to make up for the current shortage, but annually, only 16,500 medical doctors (of all specialties) and 3,500 doctors of osteopathy graduate annually.
Medically Underserved Areas
- Rural Health (Health Affairs topic page)
- Rural Health Issues and Web Links (HealthHippo)
- Rural residents are more likely than city-dwellers to be without health insurance for longer periods (ACHCPR: 1/98)
- Program Steers Family Physicians to Underserved Areas
- Physician Shortage Areas: Medicare Incentive Payment not working
- Possible Geographical Barriers to Trauma Center Access for Vulnerable Patients in the United States: An Analysis of Urban and Rural Communities (2011)
- Boomers face physician shortage (9.2.12)