Whether you live in one of Pennsylvania’s largest cities or you’re one of the almost 30 percent of residents who lives in a rural area, you face many of the same issues when you or your family needs health care services.
Members of our Healthy Me PA community from across the state regularly share their concerns with us about the hurdles they face in finding the right doctor or specialist, trying to make an appointment, and then arranging transportation for the treatments they need.
By virtue of geographical distance and a spread-out population, rural residents in Pennsylvania typically have fewer choices of local practitioners than city dwellers do. The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration reports that, in 2017, rural Pennsylvania counties had one primary care physician for every 1,387 residents. Urban counties had one for every 775 residents.
Those numbers can make it a challenge to get routine medical care, and it can be even more difficult to visit a specialist, because rural residents often must travel long distances for an appointment. Finding the transportation to get to those specialist appointments can be difficult as well. In fact, surveys show, in nonemergency situations, rural patients often cite the lack of affordable transportation as a major barrier to seeking medical care.
Given all of those variables, the local community hospital often serves as a health care hub where residents receive everything from 24/7 emergency care and regular checkups to community health programs. In Pennsylvania, there are 16 of these facilities designated as “critical access hospitals,” which receive extra funding from the state to provide those services. The facilities still struggle financially to maintain the resources they need, and much of rural America has seen the closure of these community lifelines.
Urban residents face similar difficulties. While they may have more doctors to choose from, they face struggles in scheduling a timely appointment because of the sheer volume of patients trying to get in the door. They also face transportation challenges if they live without a car and must depend on the schedules of public transportation or pay for ride-sharing services. For senior citizens and individuals with disabilities, physical mobility issues can make both city and rural travel for health care an issue.
When there are barriers to getting medical care, people have a tendency to delay getting the services they need. That’s especially true for preventive care such as annual physicals.
But preventive care lets medical professionals find the red flags for future health problems that, if not addressed, could require long-term treatment. For instance, more than 30 million people in America have diabetes and one in four doesn’t know, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another 84 million U.S. adults have prediabetes, which is a risk factor for full-blown diabetes, and an astonishing 90 percent of them don’t know they have it.
Left untreated, diabetes can lead to heart attack, stroke, blindness, and kidney damage. Preventive health care saves lives.
At Healthy Me PA, our community shares ideas, news, strategies, and programs that can overcome these barriers to getting health care. Healthy Me PA has even urged our state legislators to adequately fund rural hospitals and to approve a telemedicine bill so Pennsylvanians everywhere can get medical care from the comfort of their own homes through computer and phone connections with medical professionals.
We welcome you to join the conversation with Healthy Me PA and improve the health of all Pennsylvanians.