By: Zakwan Khan
(Photo Credit: Unsplash)
While a wonderful conspiracy idea, please do not misconstrue this title as a bleak prediction that your farm’s faithful Ford F-150 truck will rise up and finish you (its “death wobble” will take care of that). While the premise of revolutionary pick-up trucks does make for an interesting fever dream, I am here today to talk about a threat to rural residents that is much quieter than your standard V6.
Rural health disparities.
According to the Rural Health Information Hub, rural health disparities are “a particular type of health difference that is closely linked with social, economic, and/or environmental disadvantage that affect groups of people who have systematically experienced greater obstacles to health” based on factors such as race or ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status, and geography (Rural Health Information Hub). Not all healthcare systems are created equal; this statement holds true especially when comparing the United States’ healthcare system to that of other nations, and it is also an unfortunate reality when considering the healthcare microcosms that exist within our contiguous and non-contiguous borders. For example, the healthcare system of a more populated, cosmopolitan area will differ vastly from an overburdened, overstretched, and understaffed rural system.
Rural residents are placed at a particular medical disadvantage due to various reasons, which are further discussed below:
When analyzing the percentages of insured vs uninsured individuals, there were higher rates of uninsured individuals in rural areas than urban areas (Rural Health Information Hub; CDC). This means that many rural residents are unable to afford costly but necessary treatment.
Specialized medical care, such as in the fields of endocrinology and cardiology, are less likely to be available within rural areas as medical professionals often are not able to justify providing these services in an apparent low-demand region when they can receive higher pay in more cosmopolitan contexts elsewhere (Rural Health Information Hub).
Less than 8% of physicians and surgeons choose to practice in rural areas, despite the fact that nearly a fifth of the United State population lives in rural areas (Rural Health Information Hub; National Center for Health Workforce Analysis). Thus, those living in rural areas often have to travel great distances, sometimes hours away, just to see a healthcare professional. This is a luxury that many rural residents cannot afford, especially those who work agriculture jobs that require meticulous scheduling, and others who work multiple minimum-wage jobs. In fact, physicians note that that when some patients from rural areas are diagnosed with dangerous, chronic conditions like cancer, their illnesses are often in the late stages of disease progression, and their prognosis would have likely been much better had they sought medical care earlier.
Rural areas often lack the ease of accessibility that most urban areas provide. For example, the lack of public transit and other convenient municipal infrastructures, as well the fact that most people who reside in rural areas earn moderate to low income in a relatively stagnant job market, highlights the difficulties that low-income, rural residents encounter when trying to access necessary health services. Thus, they are less likely to seek treatment until their condition or pain has become unbearable, and when they finally do seek treatment, the therapies provided often have an astronomical price tag, and this dilemma is further confounded when one realizes that many in this underserved population do not have health insurance coverage (Rural Health Information Hub) (Newkirk and Damico, 2014). Thus, this drives a vicious cycle in which a significant portion of our population is made to make difficult choices regarding whether to put food on the table or access life-saving treatment.
Now, obviously, I have provided a mere summary into one aspect of the general health disparities plaguing rural areas. This is by no means an in-depth look, but rather is meant to inspire further research into the subject matter. Thus, I would suggest visiting the Rural Health Information Hub if you’re interested in learning more about helping to make medicine more accessible for rural residents.
Until next time, this is Zakwan Khan signing off from the Principality of Sealand.
Rural Health Information Hub. Rural Health Disparities Introduction. Web: https://www.ruralhealthinfo.org/topics/rural-health-disparities
Centers for Disease Control. Health, United States 2018 - DataFinder. Web: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/hus/contents2018.htm#Table_047
National Center for Health Workforce Analysis. Distribution of U.S. Health Care Providers in Rural and Urban Areas. Web: https://www.ruralhealthinfo.org/assets/1275-5131/rural-urban-workforce-distribution-nchwa-2014.pdf
Newkirk, Vann and Damico, Anthony (2014, May 29). The Affordable Care Act and Insurance Coverage in Rural Areas. KFF. Web: https://www.kff.org/uninsured/issue-brief/the-affordable-care-act-and-insurance-coverage-in-rural-areas