Challenges of health care in rural areas

Rural medicine, also called rural health, is a part of the study of health and health care, specific to rural environments. Many other disciplines are connected to or incorporated by the concept of rural health, such as nursing, sociology, geography, midwifery, economics, telehealth and so on.

Are-Rural-Hospital-Closures-an-Allied-Healthcare-ConcernOften there is a chronic lack of access to medicinal services in rural areas. Studies have shown that the needs of people living in non-urban areas are different than those of people living in cities, which is the result of many factors (demographic, socioeconomic, geographic, personal health and workplace factors).  One simple illustration is the fact that people in rural communities have a much greater percentage of children and people above 60 years of age, and, coupled with the fact that the working-age people often leave rural areas in search of jobs, these areas traditionally have a high dependency ratio, meaning they are comprised of people without an income (relying on other people’s income). There are other factors to consider which can cause this: lesser educational levels, poorer economic conditions, alcohol and so on. Generally, however, poverty is considered the most significant social determinant of health and rural areas are usually poorer than urban ones.

It is a priority of many countries, especially the ones with high concentrations of rural settlements, to invest in the development and research of rural health. Research is especially aimed at the healthcare needs of rural communities.

matt_gabon_village_natural-512x341It is a rule of thumb that people living in rural communities’ lack the level of healthcare compared to urban counterparts. This means fewer doctors, fewer healthcare institutions and facilities and less developed mental health care programs. This leads to less developed preventative care and longer emergency response times.  One of the ways modern technology can help is to deliver health care to rural dwellers by phone or the Internet, using mobile treatment programs and similar efforts. Also, a general aim of much government is to attract medical professionals to rural areas by offering better living conditions, higher salaries and other incentives. Other factors which affect health conditions in rural areas are generally poorer working conditions (physical work, working outdoors, greater health and safety hazards and so on), lower levels of personal health (more alcohol and tobacco users, obesity), and the environment itself (lack of infrastructure, treatment of wastewater, exposure to chemicals used in agriculture, disease control…).

eating-disorders-in-rural-areas-300x200One way of overcoming these challenges is telemedicine, which means using telecommunication and information technologies to provide health care at a distance. Transportation barriers, caused by lack of paved roads and other means of travel have imposing effects on providing healthcare. Telemedicine can be a supporting factor to provide long distance health care whether by means of real-time telemedicine (information are passed on instantly or with limited delay) or as store and forward medicine (consulting parties exchange information which is reviewed at the participants` convenience).

Governments around the world are raising awareness and investing more funds into project concerning rural health issues and many research centers are being instituted around the world to address this problem.