On National Rural Health Day we join others in celebrating the rural communities that are served by so many Community Health Centers while also raising awareness about the unique challenges rural communities face in accessing healthcare.
According to the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP) 57 million people, 1 in 5 Americans, live in rural communities. Rural populations experience many of the same barriers to healthcare that affect underserved communities nationally, such as cost, language, and transportation. However, the geographic isolation that comes with the territory of rural living, and fewer healthcare resources, can exacerbate these strains.
People who live in rural areas often face challenges in gaining access to affordable primary care — largely because of where they live and the scarcity of healthcare options. In fact, 37 percent of rural residents do not have access to a primary care physician due to local shortages of such physicians, compared to 21 percent of urban residents (according to NACHC fact sheet on rural health from 2013). Only nine percent of all physicians practice in rural settings. Compared to their urban or suburban counterparts, rural residents, especially rural elderly residents, are less likely to visit a primary or ambulatory care provider.
However, health centers can remove some of those barriers to care. Community, Migrant, Homeless, and Public Housing Health Centers make up one of the largest systems of care for rural America, and are frequently the only source of primary and preventive services in their communities. About 54 percent of health centers are located in rural areas and they serve more than 1 in 7 US rural residents.
Research shows that health centers have compiled a record of success in providing access to care, along with improved health outcomes and generated healthcare savings in both urban and rural communities. That is why it is important to grow and expand the reach of health centers in rural communities — with better access to preventive care, rural populations will experience better health and reduced chronic disease.