Any of us accustomed to having ample access to healthcare facilities and resources may have a hard time imagining a lifestyle where it’s difficult to find a primary care doctor.
Many states in the U.S. have their own healthcare deserts, wherein medical amenities are either limited or non-existent.
If you currently live in a healthcare desert or are considering moving into a place where healthcare is limited, you ought to prepare yourself appropriately and understand what’s available. Let’s explore some of the main challenges that families and individuals face when trying to maintain their health needs with limited options.
Guest post by Katie Brenneman
Implications of Limited Healthcare
Often, the base infrastructure necessary to foster a wholesome medical environment may be lacking in a community to provide the right help that people need. If you find yourself in an area that’s devoid of universities, hospitals, and doctor’s offices, the chances are that it will remain that way for the foreseeable future.
Good healthcare practitioners flock to central hubs around the country because those places
afford them lucrative employment and education. It’s a fair observation that if a particular town, city, or county’s population is too widespread, it will dilute the presence and accessibility of certain amenities — not only healthcare but other retailers and services as well.
That’s why people who live in these medically dry areas need to take proactive steps to reach the attention they need. For example, one of the main challenges will be driving great distances to reach the nearest primary care physician.
Another concern could be the adeptness of any medical practices in your desert. As mentioned, health hubs around the U.S. are usually the most fertile grounds for medical developments, discoveries, new technology, and new methods.
The concern with rural medical practices is that being further away from these central health hubs could create a lack of awareness and knowledge of the newest breakthroughs and understandings. This can, in turn, create medical facilities that are operating with limited or outdated techniques to treat modern health issues.
Anticipate Challenges If You’re Moving to a Healthcare Desert
While there are plenty of things to anticipate when moving somewhere new to you, accessibility to healthcare should be a top consideration. If you’re determined to move to a place with limited healthcare options, ensure that your and your family’s health is in order before venturing to a new place where immediate help may be difficult to obtain.
You can gauge the healthcare dependency of the area’s residents by engaging in local Facebook groups dedicated to health and wellness, fitness groups, and home remedy groups. It may require a shift in your approach to healthy living if medical facilities are either not accessible or too far away from where you’ll be placed.
If moving to this new area is optional for you, learning the lay of the land from a healthcare standpoint may impact your decision to move there or not.
Rural vs. Urban Accessibility
One of the starkest contrasts between rural and urban living is the access to medical care. We’ve already mentioned one of the major concerns with rural healthcare is the distance to travel, but there are also common behavioural factors that can repel good health, such as higher smoking rates and less seatbelt use.
Rural medical practitioners are usually fewer and farther between, which can make it challenging for them to maintain a sufficient capacity to see everyone in the area. For this reason, rural residents can find themselves deterred from carrying robust health insurance since they often resolve that it’s not a worthy investment. As of 2017, approximately 12% of rural Americans didn’t have health coverage at all.
This creates a sort of cyclical problem wherein fewer people are accessing and using healthcare. Thus, their insurance providers are making fewer payouts to medical offices and hospitals, which then constricts those practices’ funding. This eventually results in fewer staff hires, limited medical means to afford more advanced medical technology, and less attention those practices are able to provide.
When rural physicians have less awareness and access to certain medicines, it can lead to frustration from patients, which can deter those patients from wanting to continue seeing them.
On the flip side, a perk of rural physicians is that they can often tend to prioritize strong relationships with their patients, which can motivate better healthcare solutions for local residents. If prescription medication options are limited or unavailable, it can lead to physicians having to resort to more natural methods of treatment, which can take more time to research and monitor. This added time can often translate to patients as thorough attention and care, which serves to build their trust in the physician and their practice.
Cue remote medicine into the equation. Telemedicine is the solution that combats one of the more difficult hurdles to contend with in rural areas — distance.
Rural doctors can provide take-home exam kits for patients who require recurring visits to keep up on treatment. These kits can save them from the hassle of making multiple trips a month, which can ease their frustration. Even dentists can practice teledentistry, sending dental hygienists to a dental patient’s home to conduct a remote exam.
More hospital networks are implementing online patient portals usable on computers and mobile phones. These apps can be the tools rural physicians and doctors need to bridge the gap with rural patients to ensure they are keeping up with their healthcare when travel distance is a deciding factor.
Another aspect to consider is the inclusion of chatbots in medical practices. The application of chatbots to assist patients with simple medical information can help relieve practitioners so they can attend to live patients at their location.
And, of course, there are simple phone call doctor appointments that should always be accessible to rural residents. It’s worth looking into this, however. As some practices shift to
online telemedicine, they can begin to reduce or eliminate the ability for patients to have over-the-phone appointments.
This could become liable to exclude older residents that are less savvy with technology. Be aware of the modes of communication that the practices provide and weigh the options of what they offer.
Home Fitness and Health
When healthcare options are limited, one of the first and best alternatives is optimizing your own preventative care.
That may seem like an easy resolution at first, but it can require heavy lifting on your part. Preventative care often requires regimented lifestyle habits, like diet and exercise. But beyond that, it should be reflected in all areas of your life, like sleeping and supplementing deficiencies with vitamins.
Your emphasis must be on locating areas of your mind and body where you feel lacking and filling that void with increased care. Your doctor can help you identify which areas you need to improve, and that’s where you can minimize the need for recurring healthcare visits.
Keeping up on annual check-ups, regulating your sleep schedule, making at-home personal physical check-ups on yourself, exercising daily, and controlling the quality and quantity of foods you eat are all fundamental steps of self-care. If you can build a harmonious routine with your mind and body that can prevent you from getting ill, then you may be able to minimize the frequency with which you need to access healthcare facilities.
Keep Your Finger on the Pulse
With any healthy individual, urbanite or ruralite, it’s paramount that you’re constantly vigilant of any ailments or injuries that happen to you.
Listen to your body and address the pains that arise. Neglecting even small injuries and illnesses can lead to serious health consequences, requiring medical attention that may either be extremely distant from you or entirely nonexistent.
You have an increased obligation to yourself to stay on top of your own health when healthcare resources are limited. Do not neglect it.