Cost, appointment scheduling, and geographic barriers hindered access to healthcare for individuals living in rural America.
Access to healthcare is a problem for individuals living in rural areas, with a quarter forgoing treatment even when they are experiencing pressing symptoms, according to survey data from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The survey, the second in a two-part series about rural America, looked at the experiences rural dwellers have accessing their healthcare.
A total of 26 percent of adults living in rural areas did not access healthcare even when they believed they needed to within the past few years. Of those respondents, 45 percent said they could not afford to visit a healthcare professional.
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Nineteen percent said they could not find a clinician who accepted their health insurance, while 22 percent said they struggled to find an appointment time that would fit their personal schedules.
Geographic barriers were an issue for 23 percent of respondents.
These results suggest that the healthcare industry in rural America is still struggling, despite celebrated improvements nationwide, Robert J. Blendon, one of the co-directors of the survey, said in a statement.
“Even with major improvements in health insurance coverage over the last decade, it is concerning that one in four rural Americans are struggling to get the health care they need,” said Blendon, who is also the Richard L. Menschel Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
What’s more, individuals living in rural areas are experiencing social determinants of health (SDOH), or social factors that impact their ability to achieve health and wellness. Specifically, the survey revealed issues with housing that may impact individuals’ health.
Thirty-three percent of respondents said homelessness is an issue in their communities, although the survey did not indicate how many rural dwellers are in fact homeless.
Individuals experiencing homelessness often struggle to access healthcare or follow-up care. Additionally, these individuals face barriers to coordinating their own care or managing any chronic illnesses that may develop from acute incidents.
Another 22 percent of survey respondents said they worry that their housing conditions will impact their or their families’ health. Housing conditions, such as poor air quality or public sanitation, are known as key social determinants of health that can lead to or exacerbate chronic illnesses.
Seventeen percent of respondents said they have experienced issues with the cleanliness of their drinking water, while 16 percent cited other, unspecified environmental issues in their homes.
Thirty-six percent of respondents said their health would improve if the medical industry could boost patient access to care and care quality. Respondents agreed cutting healthcare costs would also help improve their overall health by making access less financially burdensome.
“An important goal in funding this research is to help build a more complete understanding of the challenges to being healthy and the strengths of rural places in fostering good health,” said RWJF President and CEO Richard Besser.
The situation in rural America is not bleak, however. The survey showed that 62 percent of rural dwellers are optimistic about their ability to make a positive impact on their communities. Sixty-one percent have some sort of social ties through a health, social, or community service group.
Seventy-three percent of respondents said their quality of life in their rural community is either good or excellent, while nearly 90 percent of respondents said their community was either somewhat or very safe.
This comes in contrast to national figures, which reveal that only 22 percent of all Americans would consider their communities somewhat or very safe.
Nonetheless, the survey findings suggest a needed push forward to help connect rural Americans with affordable, high-quality healthcare, said Besser. Ensuring individuals living in rural areas are connected to healthcare is key for supporting health equity.
“While it’s encouraging to see neighbors looking out for each other and strong networks of social support, it’s sobering to see that rural families struggle to pay for housing or food, go without needed medical care and lack financial security and essentials like high-speed internet access,” Besser concluded.
Date: May 30, 2019
Source: Patient Engagement HIT