Problems in Rural Health Care Shed Light on Future

By Dr. Jay H. Stein | THE JOURNAL RECORD, April 14, 1993 | Go to article overview

Problems in Rural Health Care Shed Light on Future


Dr. Jay H. Stein, THE JOURNAL RECORD


The first public meeting of the President's Health Care Task Force brought to light the complexity of resolving our nation's health care crisis. Physicians, farmers, minority groups, restaurateurs, insurance executives and small business owners expressed their views about the impending changes.

The diversity of the proposed solutions is immense. The need for reform is obvious and irrefutable.

The basic underlying issues for reform have a wide base of support. One of these is the issue of access to health care for all citizens. The idea that every individual in this country has a right to easily obtain quality medical care poses a significant challenge. This challenge becomes even more acute in areas that are geographically and technologically isolated.

Such is the reality for a large portion of Oklahoma's population. Rural Oklahomans have traditionally had to travel long distances or wait interminably to receive specialty and emergency health care.

In addition to being separated from state-of-the-art technology found in large urban medical centers, rural communities have also seen a decline in primary care physicians choosing to practice in remote areas.

In fact, the nation as a whole is experiencing this decline. This could have severe long-term effects on the health of individuals and communities.

Rural health care systems are in crisis. This dilemma affects all Oklahomans. A decline in the livelihood of rural communities will drain the cultural, educational, medical and economic health of the entire state.

An analysis of current progress in resolving the problems of health care in rural Oklahoma will shed light on what our future holds. This analysis must include an understanding of the current status of rural health care and an examination of the steps Oklahomans are making to solve this crisis. What is the current situation in rural health care systems?

Several factors play a role in the bleak reality of rural health care today. One of these is the significant decline in the number of medical school graduates choosing to practice in remote areas. While the U.S. trend shows an increase in the overall number of practicing physicians, rural areas across the nation have historically faced critical shortages of physicians.

Further, a study published by the Oklahoma State Medical Association shows that Oklahoma has 30 percent fewer physicians per 1,000 residents than the national average. These numbers translate into a myriad of problems at the community level.

With less care available due to shortages of physicians, rural residents must choose between traveling to a metro area hospital or neglecting treatment. Both of these options have a negative effect on the rural community.

Economically, health care expenditures are directed away from the rural areas that depend heavily on this revenue. Medically, the population of rural communities suffers as simple health problems become complicated due to lack of access to basic care. …

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