“Access” is a critical word in healthcare, and it’s often the operative one defining the differences between urban and rural populations. There’s a significant disparity in rural access to healthcare — which is often reflected in patient attitudes and outcomes. Put simply, rural residents may have a more cumbersome healthcare experience, and it can dissuade them from seeking care altogether.
Large gaps exist between the urban and rural healthcare landscapes. The bottom line is that rural patients are more disadvantaged than their urban counterparts across the healthcare spectrum.
Dense urban centers have an abundance of healthcare providers, giving patients the luxury of choice and the ability to be seen quickly. Urban areas are also more likely to have lower costs for care due to centralized health systems, more robust insurance offerings, and census-based funding support.
Rural areas are more disparate, and facilities are often located farther from where patients live. Rural facilities tend to have a smaller staff and limited availability – a reality intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing staffing shortages. The cost of rural healthcare is also often higher. Many rural patients pay out of pocket for care due to a lack of health insurance or limited coverage .
Specialty care is a big differentiator as well. Urban areas usually have more specialists, whereas rural facilities may not offer specialties at all.
These differences highlight the challenges of timeliness, cost, and accessibility in rural healthcare. These challenges often lead to patients forgoing healthcare entirely. They may decide that the time, cost, and frustration involved in seeking care outweigh the risks of going without care. Unfortunately, this can lead to more severe health problems down the road.
Consider the experience of a rural elderly patient who’s been experiencing heart problems. The general practitioner recommends a cardiologist. But the closest specialist operates in a hospital an hour’s drive away, and the patient doesn’t have a car. Due to high demand, the next available appointment is six months away. Our patient must suffer from heart pain in the meantime and becomes increasingly frustrated with the situation. Because the problem has been present for so long already, the patient decides to push through the pain rather than go through the hassle of seeking care again.
The healthcare landscape doesn’t have to remain discouraging for rural patients. Improving access to care is critical to improving both patient experience and health outcomes. Rural facilities can rely on advancing technologies to expand accessibility and ultimately deliver a higher caliber of patient care.
Telehealth is one major evolution in the rural healthcare space. Having provider-patient interactions in the digital space means patients can avoid the struggle of commuting long distances or waiting extended periods to speak with a doctor. Telehealth makes it easier, faster, and simpler for patients to seek care. Learn More.
Facilities must also ensure a seamless continuum of care between providers. Many patients will have to travel to multiple facilities to meet all their health needs. Providers using an electronic health records (EHR) system can better ensure all patient data is transferred appropriately, leading to fewer miscommunications or lapses in information. Patients can also access their records to get a better understanding of their health information, which can help improve medical literacy among rural populations.
Put simply, people avoid struggle. If seeking care is cumbersome and complicated, rural residents will weigh it against the consequences of avoiding care. But given a seamless, accessible, inviting healthcare experience that exceeds their expectations, patients are much more likely to take control over their health in a proactive and meaningful way. These individual touches improving each patient’s healthcare journey can culminate overtime, improving the health of the entire community.
Learn how to improve the rural healthcare experience at evident.com.