While it’s true that over the past century, the average life expectancy for Americans has increased by about 25 years, that figure is not universally true throughout the United States. In some rural areas of the country, and particularly with seniors, life expectancy has remained relatively stagnant, and has actually decreased slightly. The biggest reason for this is that there just aren’t enough doctors and caregivers to provide skilled care in those more remotes sections, although it’s also true that health insurance has not been as available to that demographic as to others.
Other problems with rural care
Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), everyone does have the right to care in this country, but that is not equivalent to having access to treatment when it’s really needed – and for many advanced seniors, the consequences of zero treatment can be life-threatening. Studies have shown clearly that rural seniors have to travel longer distances, to see fewer doctors, with bigger caseloads – and quite often don’t have medical coverage or money to pay for treatment. As a result, seniors in urban areas outlive those in country settings by a clear margin.
Efforts to provide care
In a desperate attempt to entice more young doctors to rural areas, some states like Colorado have begun offering residency programs at state-supported universities. Since statistics show that most doctors settle in areas within 150 miles of where they did residencies, that should serve to encourage more young doctors to remain in under-served areas of the state.
Some rural area hospitals have offered to help young doctors pay off their college loans through a kind of loan repayment program, in exchange for working in designated areas where medical professionals are in scarce supply. Both this tactic and the one above, wherein residency programs are offered, have met with limited success, but are still far short of filling the vast need for skilled medical help in rural areas.
Success through home care
Probably the most successful attempt so far for bridging the gap between rural patients and qualified medical professionals, has been provided by technology, specifically that of senior care at home. Pilot programs have already been setup in many of the more remote rural areas which lack the needed doctors and health care professionals. By connecting the two parties over the Internet, some level of interaction has become possible, where none existed before.
This solves several problems at once, particularly the travel issue and the non-resident physician one. Still, it is not the perfect answer, because the question of physical treatment must still be ironed out somehow, so urgent cases can be handled effectively. If some of the remaining issues for elder care at home can be resolved in the future, there just may be a brighter outlook for under-served seniors in rural areas of this country.