The Lure and Challenges of Rural Healthcare

The Lure and Challenges of Rural Healthcare

Big city or small town? Most people have a preference about what type of community they want to work in, raise a family and generally call home. There are pros and cons with both types of living environments – especially when you are a physician looking to establish a practice and a quality reputation for yourself.

This blog will focus on the positives and challenges of providing rural healthcare…and ways to make this option a little more advantageous.

Arguments FOR Rural Healthcare

Personal Relationships: In a smaller town, often those with less than 10,000 people, you will have the opportunity to know your patients on a more personal level. You are usually able to treat entire families, stretching across multiple generations, forming a very strong bond that goes well beyond a clinical doctor/patient relationship.

Strong Sense of Community: Your practice can become an active supporter of the community in general – a real staple of participation in your geographic area. During local events, you will most likely come into contact with many of your patients, allowing you to be more approachable and personable while feeling that you are making a real difference in the lives of families beyond just treating them medically.

Slower Pace of Life: Big cities often come with a faster, more stressful pace – both in and out of your office. In a small-town setting, your patients may not be as hurried to get into and out of your office. You may have a shorter commute into your office. You may be able to enjoy nature and your surroundings more every single day. Not every small community has a lower crime rate; but a slower pace of living often equates to this positive benefit.

Lower Cost of Living: Your earnings usually go further in a rural community as opposed to the high cost of living in urban areas.

Lowering of Student Loans: If you are a physician just starting out, there are federal and state-funded incentives that offer reimbursement and/or repayment for student loans for new doctors that settle into a practice in rural communities.

Larger Range of Experience: If you are the only doctor in town, you will most likely gain experience handling a broader scope of medical situations. This will be an advantage if you enjoy meeting new challenges each day.

Decision-Making: In small offices, there is often just one doctor and a very small support staff. In these cases, the doctor will be the main decision-maker on all aspects of the practice.

Arguments AGAINST Rural Healthcare

Larger Workload: There is an overall shortage of physicians in rural communities. It is estimated that only 9% of doctors work in rural areas. Recent statistics report that for every 10,000 people, there are only 13.1 rural physicians compared to 31.2 physicians in urban areas. Therefore, you may find that your workload is much greater, your hours are longer and your need for a more robust set of specialty skills is necessary if you are the only doctor in town.

Lower Pay Scale: Due to the amount of rural patients on Medicaid and Medicare – or ones that are uninsured – your pay may not match your peers that work in larger metropolitan areas.

Recruitment Challenges: Not all doctors are fond of living and working in rural communities. If you do need to hire additional help, it may be difficult to recruit an experienced physician to join your team.

Steeper and Slower Educational Curve: The populations of some rural communities have an overall lower educational level. This means it may take longer to provide education about the real-life benefits of your elective surgical procedures. You may need to commit more of your resources into marketing to sell this segment on your services.

Access to Technology Resources: If you run into technical glitches with your software or equipment, it may take longer to get a qualified technician to your office. You may also not have access to high-tech equipment, making it necessary to have a different set of diagnostic and treatment skills.   

The Rewards Often Win Out Over Challenges

Despite the challenges of rural healthcare, many physicians often find that the rewards are simply too great to pass up – that the challenges are worth the amazing sense of community and family these practices experience every day. Doctors in smaller communities get to see first-hand how their treatments affect not only their patients but also their entire families.

Ways to Help Rural Healthcare

One way to make the option of rural healthcare more manageable is by joining a Management Service Organization (MSO). Advantage Healthcare Consulting, a division of Advantage Administration, is a healthcare Management Services Organization (MSO) that has partnered with a full range of medical services and product suppliers to provide discounted rates through large group volume pricing. Every penny counts when it comes to saving money in a rural practice; the MSO allows smaller practices to gain cost-effective access to Big City providers.

The Advantage Healthcare Consulting MSO includes savings on:

  • Medical equipment
  • Office supplies
  • Medical software
  • Medical billing and collections
  • Financial management
  • EMR software
  • EPM/EHR selection and implementation
  • Human resources and recruiting
  • Succession planning
  • Marketing
  • Staff sales training

The ultimate goal of our MSO is to give you access to savings on products and services that can improve your practice’s efficiency, customer support and, ultimately, your revenue. This should allow you to spend more time interacting with your patients and less time worrying about the day-to-day operations of your practice.

Practice Assessment

Advantage Healthcare Consulting offers a Practice Assessment service where we conduct a thorough analysis of your operations and identify opportunities to improve your processes. Regardless of the size of your practice, this is a process that should be done at least every three years.

To learn more about options to improve your rural healthcare practice through participation in an MSO, contact Advantage Healthcare Consulting, a division of Advantage Administration, today.