6 Challenges Facing Rural Health Populations in 2023


In 2023, rural populations continue to face significant obstacles in accessing healthcare. Limited access, a shortage of providers, resistance to technology, socioeconomic challenges, and other disparities are among the major barriers to obtaining adequate services in healthcare deserts.

Rural communities represent a significant portion of the country’s population and deserve equitable access to quality healthcare. Unfortunately, they’re struggling to get it.

Rural health in crisis

Despite advancements in medicine and technology, disparities in healthcare access and outcomes continue to exist — and in rural areas, they’re growing worse. COVID-19 magnified preexisting issues and added new layers of complexity to an already strained healthcare system.

Below are some of the primary challenges facing rural health populations in 2023:

  1. Limited access to healthcare. Rural populations already struggle with limited access to healthcare due to geographical remoteness, inadequate transportation infrastructure, and long distances to medical facilities. In 2023 and beyond, they’re also seeing longer wait times, fewer available specialists, and increasing facility closures.
  2. Shortage of healthcare providers. The current ratio of patients to primary care physicians in rural areas is approximately 40 physicians per 100,000 people. Contributing factors include lower reimbursement rates, limited resources, and professional isolation.
  3. Limited technology and telehealth resources. The lack of necessary technological infrastructure and resources has hampered the rollout of telehealth services to rural populations. Without it, there’s impeded access to virtual consultations, remote monitoring, and other digital healthcare solutions to bridge the geographical gap and enhance healthcare delivery.
  4. Socioeconomic and demographic challenges. Rural populations struggle in the face of social determinants of health (SDOH), and these factors are only growing worse. Inflation, economic barriers, and legislative stress have made healthcare more expensive and less accessible for those who desperately need it.
  5. Environmental and occupational health hazards. Rural areas are increasingly prone to environmental and occupational health risks, such as exposure to agricultural chemicals, industrial pollutants, or dangers related to natural resource extraction. These hazards have adverse health effects on rural populations, necessitating specialized healthcare services and preventive measures — which aren’t always available.
  6. Political tensions surrounding healthcare. Disagreements over issues like Medicaid expansion, insurance affordability, and the sustainability of rural healthcare systems have created uncertainty across the country. This has led to challenges in resource allocation and exacerbated healthcare disparities in rural areas.

Across America, these factors are compounding and devastating. While the COVID-19 public health emergency is officially at its end, rural health remains in crisis. Despite strong headwinds, there are positive developments. For instance, healthcare digitization continues to play a crucial role in bridging inequity gaps for rural populations. Technologies like electronic health records (EHRs), telemedicine, and digital wellness applications are transforming the way healthcare is delivered and accessed in rural areas.

While these advancements bring optimism, there’s still more work to do for healthcare reform. The integration of technology, better infrastructure, and more healthcare investments must be accompanied by policy changes and resource allocation to ensure equitable access and affordability of digital healthcare solutions for rural communities.

The time to act is now

The challenges facing rural health populations in 2023 require urgent attention and action from healthcare professionals, policymakers, and the public. Investing in technologies and improving healthcare services for rural populations can positively impact the health and well-being of millions of people across the country. While the road to equitable healthcare is difficult, we must explore it now to avoid perpetuating healthcare inequities that are only growing worse.

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