Accessibility to health care services is an essential indication of the quality of life in a country. Access to services such as emergency care, dental care, primary care, and behavioral health care improves people’s health and overall condition. In urban areas, residents have access to such facilities, but in rural areas, this is not always the case.
People in rural communities usually live far from a health facility. Rural facilities may also experience workforce shortage problems, explains the experts at Emergency Staffing Solutions, which is why many of these depend on emergency department staffing groups.
Here’s a closer look at some of the challenges involved in providing health care to rural areas and the possible solutions to improve access to health services.
Distance and transportation to primary care facilities
Rural residents usually have to travel long distances to reach health facilities, in particular, specialist services. There are also times when there is no reliable transportation for patients who need to get to medical appointments. Without public or private transportation, people in rural communities could not receive the care they need.
Solution: Delivery models (examples: Frontier Extended Stay Clinics, the Frontier Community Health Integration Program) and team-based care models (example: Patient-Centered Medical Home) can extend primary care and other health care services in rural areas.
In small communities, everyone knows everyone. This can be an issue for those who need to seek health care or medical advice, especially for issues related to substance abuse, pregnancy, mental health, sexual health, and even some common chronic illnesses. There are privacy issues for those seeking particular health services.
Solution: Integration or co-location of offices providing behavioral health services with primary care offices could help reduce privacy concerns. Residents would not need to go to another facility to seek specialist advice and behavioral health services.
Closure of health care facilities and workforce shortage
One of the most pressing concerns in providing health care to rural residents is the closure of some hospitals or health care units. From 2004 to 2014, 179 rural counties lost obstetric services in their local health facilities. This was due to the closure of rural hospitals or of the OB unit.
Solution: Affiliation or partnership with larger health care networks may improve the financial viability of rural facilities as well as provide additional resources, allowing for increased pay for staff and other incentives for workforce retention. This could maintain health care access in their communities and address workforce shortage.
Shortage of health providers
There is also a lack of health providers in rural communities. Mental health care is a specific issue, where more than half of the mental health professional shortage were located in rural communities. As a result, the primary care doctors are often the ones who provide mental health services.
Solution: Development and use of behavioral health aide models, where behavioral health aides, as well as community health workers with supplemental training in mental health (and other areas of health care), can provide some mental health services.
Access to health facilities in any country is a vital sign that a nation’s population is receiving the healthcare they need. Overcoming these issues are vital in making sure that Americans have the quality of life they deserve.