Dr. Ken’s Corner: Rural Healthcare Needs “Shot In The Arm”

Rural healthcare in America has had to face more than its share of challenges. The pandemic has only made the situation worse, revealing the weaknesses of an already fragile system.

Alabama, for example, has a 41% rural population, among the highest proportions in the US. In the race to administer Covid-19 shots to its residents, “Alabama has consistently trailed the pack,” according to a recent Wall Street Journal article.

This is “indicative of the general erosion of the rural health-care infrastructure across the country,” said Mark Holmes, director of the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services at the University of North Carolina.

Locumpedia cites several sources that illustrate the plight of America’s rural healthcare system:

From the Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform: Even before the pandemic began to take its toll, the CHQPR found that more than 500 rural hospitals were at immediate risk of closure. “As of mid-2020, almost 900 rural hospitals, or about 40% of all rural hospitals across the US, faced either ‘immediate’ or ‘high’ risk of closing,” according to a recent CHPQR analysis.

From the National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations (NALTO): “[People] living in [small towns and rural communities] tend to fare worse than their urban and suburban counterparts in health and socio-economic status — including suicide rates, addiction, accessing mental health services, chronic illness, maternal mortality, education, household income, poverty level and technology access.”

From Physicians Practice: Mike Gianas of allMedicalPersonnel wrote that the physician shortage in the US has been especially hard on less-populated communities. He noted that “the number of physicians per 10,000 people in rural America was 13.1, versus 31.2 in urban areas.”

Telehealth is being promoted as a way to help bridge this gap. The US Department of Agriculture has announced that it’s investing $42 million in telehealth infrastructure for some five million rural residents, according to a recent report at healthcareITnews.com. “USDA is helping rural America build back better using technology as a cornerstone to create more equitable communities,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Meanwhile, locum tenens doctors continue to provide quality patient care to underserved rural communities, just as they’ve been doing for more than 40 years.