The U.S. Census Bureau basically defines rural as any area that is not urban. If you are living in an Urbanized Area, you are living in an area that has 50,000 or more people; if you are living in an Urban Cluster, your area will have between 2,500 and 50,000 people.
While a whopping 97% of our U.S. land area is rural, 19.3% of the population live rurally. This equates to approximately 60 million people who may find it difficult to gain access to – and afford – healthcare in the U.S. There are many reasons why rural healthcare is so challenging – even beyond the facts that people living in rural areas often have a lower per capita income and higher poverty levels.
Aging Population: As younger family members in rural families choose to leave home for school or work, the population left behind grows older.
Age-Related Illnesses: With age comes a variety of illnesses and diseases that require medical treatment as well as education on how to live a healthier life.
Geographic Challenges: For people who live rurally, there may be transportation issues to get to and from medical facilities and doctor offices. In addition, most rural areas are subject to weather issues such as flooding, icing on mountain roads or trees blocking the way; these acts of nature are always a consideration when traveling in rural areas. A seemingly simple doctor appointment could end up taking the entire day – forcing time off work and requiring outside help from other family members or friends for transportation.
Limited Resources: It is not uncommon to have a shortage of physicians in rural communities. Recent statistics report that in urban areas, there are 31.2 physicians for every 10,000 people, but only 13.1 rural physicians. In these medically underserved areas, people may find it difficult to get a convenient appointment or medical treatment in a timely manner. In addition, the physicians that are available may not have the precise education, training or even technological resources required for proper diagnosis and specialized treatment.
Affordability: With the increase of medical insurance plan premiums, strain on Medicaid funds due to high enrollment and the uncertain future of the Affordable Care Act, people in rural communities may simply not be able to afford the care they need. Likewise, many rural medical facilities are simply not able to afford upgrades to their offices to allow for improved care.
Solutions for Rural Healthcare
Despite the challenges, living rural will still be a way of life for many people who value a lower cost of living, a strong sense of community, a slower pace of life, the connection with nature and usually a lower crime rate. To support these individuals, more physicians are thinking outside the box for rural healthcare solutions:
- Opening rural clinics for general care
- Offering virtual doctor appointments (telehealth)
- Providing health education to prevent illnesses
- Securing financing for facility reinvestment
- Providing incentives for physicians to choose rural healthcare
- Providing value-based care
- Joining larger healthcare networks
- Joining a Management Service Organization (MSO)
Advantage Healthcare Consulting, a division of Advantage Administration, is a healthcare Management Services Organization (MSO) that can help rural practices gain access to discounted rates on necessary medical services and products to support their day-to-day operations. By joining the MSO, members can save on:
- Medical equipment and software
- Office supplies
- Financial management including medical billing and collections
- EMR software
- EPM/EHR selection and implementation
- Staff sales training
Improve Your Efficiencies
Watching every penny and tracking every minute is vital to sustain a rural healthcare practice. There may be ways to streamline your processes in an effort to save money and provide better care to your community. Advantage Healthcare Consulting offers a Practice Assessment service to give you an outsider’s perspective of your operations with recommendations on how to improve your efficiencies. This is a very valuable process that should be repeated every three years to ensure you are operating at maximum effectiveness.
To learn more about joining an MSO to better serve your rural community, contact Advantage Healthcare Consulting, a division of Advantage Administration, today.