We continue to celebrate National Public Health Week and our daily theme for today is rural health. People who live in rural areas can face different kinds of health issues and concerns compared to people living in urban areas. There are many ways to define a rural community, but generally speaking, “rural” refers to communities that are outside the boundaries of large metropolitan areas with populations of less than 50,000 people (U.S. Census Bureau, 2018). My family comes from a rural area and I grew up in a rural community for part of my life. I have seen the health care related challenges and struggles our community faced and it helped to shape my interest in public health.
As a population group, residents of rural areas have higher rates of chronic illnesses, experience worse overall health and have higher mortality rates than residents of urban areas. But why? Many factors put them at higher risk for these health disparities including high rates of unemployment, living in isolated or remote areas and living below the poverty level (Rural Health Information Hub, 2017).
A lack of job opportunities means that fewer people have access to employer-based health insurance, making them more likely to be uninsured. Living in a remote area creates transportation challenges, making it difficult to access health care professionals and services. Being poorer than urban residents makes it is more challenging to purchase needed items for a healthy and happy life, including sufficient healthy food, safe housing, transportation, health insurance, etc.
In addition to these factors, there is also a significant shortage of health care providers in rural areas. The National Rural Health Association (2014) estimates there are only 39.8 primary care physicians for every 100,000 people in rural areas, compared to 53.3 primary care physicians for every 100,000 people in urban areas. Most mental health providers are located in urban and metro areas, creating a continuing shortage in rural areas. This is an issue that is very important to me because my dad is a stroke survivor living in a rural area. When he suffered his stroke, he had to be taken to the nearest hospital that could provide the care he needed, which was over 160 miles away. Lack of access to needed health care services in rural communities is a significant issue that can negatively affect health outcomes.
What can be done to overcome these challenges? Strategies that can help with reducing health disparities in rural areas are to focus more on prevention of health issues, early detection of health problems and better management of existing health conditions (CDC, 2017). Health care providers in rural areas can play a key role in these efforts to reduce overall health care costs and help improve the quality of life of rural Americans.
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- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2017). About Rural Health. Retrieved from _https://www.cdc.gov/ruralhealth/about.html
- U.S. Census Bureau (2018). Urban and Rural. Retrieved from _https://www.census.gov/geo/reference/urban-rural.html
- Rural Health Information Hub (2017). Rural Health Disparities. Retrieved from _https://www.ruralhealthinfo.org/topics/rural-health-disparities
- National Rural Health Association (2014). About Rural Health Care. Retrieved from _https://www.ruralhealthweb.org/about-nrha/about-rural-health-care#_ftn1