Healthcare Disparities & Barriers to Healthcare

Rural residents experience many difficulties in accessing health care services. These disadvantages result in higher morbidity and mortality rates compared to those of their urban counterparts.

Lack of healthcare professionals in rural areas

Even though rural communities contain about 20% of America’s population, less than 10% of physicians practice in these communities. Likewise, fewer dentists practice in rural areas. Even the majority of EMS first responders in rural areas are volunteers.

Geographic barriers

In rural areas residents need to travel greater distances to access different points of the health care delivery system. Health care facilities in these areas are small and often provide limited services. Often, due to geographic distance, extreme weather conditions, environmental and climatic barriers, lack of public transportation, and challenging roads, rural residents may be limited/ prohibited from accessing health care services.

Rural area residents need to travel greater distances for healthcare. "Birtha", the VA Palo Alto's mobile healthcare van brings medical services to patients in rural areas.

Access to healthcare services and benefits

Timely access to emergency care is a major issue for rural residents. Response times by emergency medical personnel and transport times via ambulance to 
the hospital are notably greater than in urban areas.[1]

The difficulties of access to health care facilities may impair outcomes by increasing patients’ physical and emotional stress, reducing the likelihood of seeking follow-up care, and limiting proximate family support.[2]

Rural people are less likely to be covered by Medicaid benefit. Rural residents are less likely to have employer- provided health care coverage or prescription drug coverage. The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission documented lower average Medicare costs and lower likelihood of using Medicare hospice benefits for rural beneficiaries in the last year of life.

Motor vehicle accident rates

One-third of all motor vehicle accidents occur in rural areas; however, two-thirds of motor vehicle deaths occur on rural roads. Rural residents are also nearly twice as likely as urban residents to die from unintentional injuries other than motor vehicle accidents.[3]

National Rural Health Snapshot

Health Care Barriers & Prescription Drug Costs[3]

Five categories of healthcare barriers:

  • Transportation difficulties
  • Limited health care supply
  • Lack of quality health care
  • Social isolation
  • Financial constraints


Six diverse strategies for coping with prescription drug costs:

  • Reducing dosage or doing without
  • Limiting other expenses
  • Relying on family assistance
  • Supplementing with alternative medicine
  • Shopping around for 
    lowest prices
  • Using the Veterans Administration (for those 
    who qualify)