Rural Healthcare Access: Issues for Consideration in Rural Health Research


Important differences in health outcomes across populations and geographical regions may reflect differences in access to healthcare services. Many studies have shown the effect of low access on health outcomes. Studies that look at access and disparate health outcomes are important in understanding and changing how and where healthcare services are located.
Physicians in the United States most often practice in urban communities rather than rural communities. In 1997, only one out of ten physicians provided healthcare services in rural areas. This statistic means that only eleven percent of this nation’s physicians provide healthcare to 20% of its population (USDA, 2002). Rural areas also have lower proportions of all healthcare professionals (Ricketts, 1999). Rural health services often experience diseconomies of scale in that their long run average cost increases as output increases (Folland et al. 2001). Providing care becomes too expensive; the providers lose money, and close or merge with other services thereby decreasing access. Rural populations then experience an increase in distance and travel time to access necessary healthcare services.

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