Urban vs. Rural Service Mixes: The Doctor Desert

Urban vs. Rural Service Mixes: The Doctor Desert

For several of my associates, dealing with aging parents in rural areas has opened their eyes to the terrifying existence of “healthcare deserts” — rural areas underserved by healthcare facilities.

Healthcare deserts are just as serious a concern as the food deserts discussed in one of our blog posts in November. Nearly one-fourth of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, but only about 10 percent of physicians practice in rural America, according to “Healthy People 2010: A Companion Document for Rural Areas,” a report of a study funded by the federal Office of Rural Health Policy.

Without easy access to medical care, people tend to avoid getting the preventative care they need, allowing health problems that could be easily treated early-on to escalate. When addressing health issues finally becomes unavoidable, travel to distant healthcare facilities for expensive procedures is often the only option. Of course, that’s just one of the situations driving up the cost of healthcare for everyone.

Some states have incentives for medical students to train in rural areas and for primary care doctors to practice there. When healthcare systems reach out to rural communities with traveling specialists, the benefits for patients are tremendous. And, of course, the healthcare system establishes itself as a credible source when serious treatment and care is required. Using our extensive data resources, we’ve been able to help rural communities, as well as healthcare systems, determine what types of healthcare facilities would most benefit all parties.

As the country struggles with upcoming healthcare questions, healthcare systems must address the vital needs of rural areas and try to populate the doctor deserts. Analytics can be incredibly valuable for predictive modeling and decision-making no matter which side of the table you’re on.