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The Rural Health Crisis: How Disparities Are Hurting Rural Americans

It's no secret that rural Americans face a disproportionate burden of health injustices when compared to urban areas. However, the severity of this health crisis is often underestimated, with many regional healthcare providers left ill-equipped to handle the needs of these communities.

Unfortunately, the health disparities don’t stop there. Rural areas are plagued with a multitude of social determinants of health, hospital closures, and a lack of resources.

In the CareTalk episode, “The Challenges of Rural Health”, hosts, John Driscoll and David Williams delve into rural health and how health disparities are causing a crisis in rural America.

What is Rural Health?

Rural health refers to the healthcare delivery and services provided to populations living in rural or remote areas. Rural areas are typically characterized by low population density, and limited access to healthcare facilities, and medical professionals, which can pose significant challenges to accessing healthcare services.

Rural health is a complex and highly significant area of healthcare that is often overlooked in society. It encompasses a range of medical issues, from the prevention and treatment of chronic illnesses to mental health and substance abuse treatment.

Providing healthcare in rural areas poses unique challenges when compared to urban settings. However, it is an essential aspect of healthcare that must be addressed to improve the health and well-being of rural communities. Having proper healthcare services in rural areas is crucial for the health of the entire nation, as many food and agricultural products come from these regions.

To ensure that rural areas have access to necessary medical services, it is vital to understand the unique needs and circumstances of rural patients and develop specialized programs and policies to address them.

Challenges of Rural Health

Rural health is a complex and multifaceted issue. Rural communities face many challenges in accessing and providing quality healthcare, including geographic isolation, an aging population, a lack of healthcare providers, high poverty rates, and a lack of transportation. These challenges can make it difficult for rural residents to get the healthcare they need, which can have a negative impact on their health and well-being.

Geographic isolation

Rural areas are often located far from major cities, which can make it difficult for residents to get to the doctor.

Aging population

The rural population is aging at a faster rate than the urban population, which means there are more people with chronic health conditions.

Lack of healthcare providers

There are fewer healthcare providers in rural areas than in urban areas. This is because it can be difficult to attract and retain healthcare providers in rural areas.

High poverty rates

Rural poverty rates are higher than urban poverty rates, which means there are more people in rural areas who are struggling to make ends meet. People who are living in poverty are less likely to have health insurance, and they are more likely to delay or forgo needed healthcare.

Lack of transportation

Many rural residents do not have access to reliable transportation. This can make it difficult for them to get to the doctor, especially if the doctor is located far away. Lack of transportation can also make it difficult for rural residents to get to the grocery store, the pharmacy, and other essential services.

People can't get to their appointments. So, if I live in an, I live in an urban area, I can actually walk, I can take the train, take the car a short distance. I could take a taxi, Uber or Lyft. If you're in a rural area and you don't have your reliable vehicle to drive yourself, you don't have any of those other options. So, it affects getting to your doctor's appointments for sure but it also affects, you know, being able to go out and pick up your prescription. – David (CareTalk)

Rural healthcare

Disparities in Rural Health

Rural Americans face significant health disparities compared with their urban counterparts. These disparities are due to a complex set of factors, including access to healthcare, socioeconomic status, and health-related behaviors. Rural Americans are more likely to have chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes. They are also more likely to die prematurely.

Access to healthcare

Rural residents often have less access to healthcare services than urban residents. This can be due to a shortage of healthcare providers in rural areas, limited transportation options, and a lack of healthcare facilities.

Hospital Closures

When a hospital closes in a rural area, it can have a devastating impact on the community. This is because rural communities often have limited access to healthcare, and the loss of a hospital can mean that residents have to travel long distances to get the care they need. This can be especially difficult for people who are elderly, disabled or have chronic health conditions.

Health outcomes

Rural residents have higher rates of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. They are also more likely to die from certain health conditions such as stroke, unintentional injuries, and suicide.

Behavioral factors

Rural residents may engage in behaviors that can negatively affect their health, such as smoking and substance abuse.

Socioeconomic factors

Rural residents are more likely to live in poverty, have lower levels of education, and have less access to healthy foods than their urban counterparts. These factors can contribute to poor health outcomes.

Environmental factors

Rural residents may be exposed to environmental hazards such as air and water pollution, which can have negative effects on their health.

There tends to be lower education level that leads to less understanding about things like vaccine hesitancy's, overall economic challenges, and an older population. Then there's the health behaviors. You've got alcohol, drugs, obesity, diet, and exercise. Then there's a physical environment, in some cases, people in rural areas have contaminated drinking water. - David (CareTalk)

What Is Being Done to Fix the Rural Health Crisis?

The rural health crisis is a complex problem with no easy solutions. However, there are a number of things that are being done to address this issue. One of the most important things is to expand access to healthcare. This can be done by expanding Medicaid, increasing the availability of telehealth, and providing financial assistance to help people afford healthcare.

Another important step is to improve the quality of care in rural areas. This can be done by investing in rural hospitals and clinics, training more healthcare providers in rural areas, and using technology to improve the delivery of care.

Finally, it is important to address the social determinants of health, which are the factors that influence health outside of the healthcare system. This includes things like access to housing, food, and transportation, as well as promoting healthy lifestyles.

I think it's really exciting, because suddenly for the first time you've got a high-quality video, real-time contact with doctors, and pretty much any specialist you'd want available via telemedicine. I think telemedicine would be helpful in terms of follow-up, chronic care, some basic monitoring, and connection. I think it can be a critical infrastructure support and extender, but I don't think it's a replacement. - John (CareTalk)

The Future of Rural Health

In conclusion, rural health is an essential aspect of healthcare that focuses on the well-being of individuals living in rural areas. Despite the numerous challenges that are associated with rural healthcare, including a shortage of healthcare providers and limited access to healthcare facilities, there are concerted efforts aimed at improving the delivery of healthcare services in rural areas.

However, disparities in rural health continue to exist, with individuals living in rural areas often facing worse health outcomes than their urban counterparts. Nevertheless, the healthcare industry, policymakers, and other business leaders are working together to address the rural health crisis through initiatives such as telehealth, increased funding for rural healthcare programs, and the expansion of healthcare services in underserved areas.

By continuing to prioritize rural health, we can ensure that all individuals, regardless of where they live, have access to quality healthcare services and enjoy good health outcomes.



CareTalk is the only healthcare podcast that tells it like it is. Join hosts John Driscoll (President U.S. Healthcare and EVP, Walgreens Boots Alliance) and David Williams (President, Health Business Group) as they provide an incisive, no B.S. view of the US healthcare industry.



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