Typically, hospitals in rural areas are much smaller than the ones we see in big cities. Regardless of their size, rural healthcare plays a significant role in keeping the communities healthy and sound by offering emergency care for people. Sometimes, they collaborate with urban health systems to provide specialized and primary care.
Although rural health professionals can provide urgent, quality, and compassionate care to the people there, obstacles still complicate things for patients seeking rural care. Because, in many cases, rural care isn’t enough for the patient’s needs.
Let’s look at healthcare stakeholders’ challenges while providing healthcare in rural areas.
Rural areas often have limited access to healthcare services
Over 60 million Americans, 1/5 of the US population, are rural residents. Many of them are older and have severe health conditions. Therefore, they require more medical attention and care wherever they are. However, in many rural areas, people have limited access to healthcare services, including minimal specialized care.
Many local hospitals in rural areas are seeing closures. Residents must travel long distances to seek even the standard services in the nearest hospitals. They might need to travel further to find specialized services like substance abuse treatment.
Due to socioeconomic issues, we might see many rural residents have no insurance coverage, which prevents them from accessing the care they need.
Rural areas often have a shortage of healthcare professionals
In rural America, a shortage of healthcare professionals presents significant challenges. Here are key reasons and potential solutions:
- Cost of medical education: High medical school costs deter doctors, especially when primary care roles in rural areas offer lower salaries.
- Limited job opportunities: Fewer healthcare facilities in rural areas mean fewer job openings for healthcare professionals.
- Scarcity of resources: Poor healthcare resources and facilities make comprehensive care difficult.
- Recruitment and retention struggles: Rural healthcare providers find it hard to attract and keep staff, leading to burnout and staff shortages.
- Negative consequences: Doctor shortages result in longer wait times, reduced care quality, and limited specialist access.
To improve rural healthcare:
- Support networks: Establish support systems through telehealth and mentorship.
- Specialized training: Provide training for rural-specific challenges like telehealth and chronic disease management.
- Government initiatives: Offer financial incentives for rural practice and improve infrastructure with broadband access and reliable transportation.
Rural areas lack technology and telemedicine
Technology and telemedicine significantly improve healthcare delivery, especially in rural places when resources and opportunities are scarce. Rural doctors can use telehealth to connect with other doctors for advice, receive training, and improve health outcomes.
But often, rural areas don’t have access to high-speed internet required for telemedicine services. Rural residents do not own smartphones in some areas, which is crucial to accessing telehealth services.
All state requirements for telehealth licensing and credentialing aren’t the same. So, it can make things difficult for healthcare providers who wish to provide care through telemedicine. Similarly, reimbursement policies for telehealth are also different from state to state.
Lack of modern technology may also make it difficult for doctors to exchange electronic health information in rural areas. Rural residents may be skeptical about the quality of telehealth services or concerned about their data security and privacy.
However, all these problems can be solved by taking a few measures over time. Stakeholders should fund telehealth programs, expand reimbursement policies, and create awareness of telehealth services to encourage rural residents.
Improving healthcare delivery models
The lack of proper healthcare infrastructure, human resources, equipment, and funding can reduce the quality of care in rural hospitals and clinics. It’s crucial to improve the rural healthcare delivery models and provide quality care to the residents.
It is why the government, investors, healthcare providers, and every other healthcare stakeholder should focus more on healthcare education and awareness while addressing the challenges related to infrastructure and resources.
Photo: supersizer, Getty Images