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How to improve access to primary care in rural and underserved communities

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Article

The following strategies can improve access to primary care.

Improving access to primary care in underserved and rural areas is an essential issue in healthcare. Rural inhabitants encounter access challenges, including workforce shortages, health insurance status, transportation issues, health literacy, and stigma. Individuals who do not have health insurance have reduced access to health care. According to Geographic Variation in Health Insurance Coverage: United States, 2021, rural children and adults under 65 were more likely to be uninsured than their urban counterparts. Addressing access obstacles to primary care may aid in reducing inequities and the likelihood of poor health outcomes. There are several strategies to improve access to primary care in rural and underserved communities, including expanding nontraditional sources of care, such as telehealth, and implementing policies that help to ensure the affordability of care, increase stable revenue, and shift practices away from fee-for-service payments.

Strategies for improving access to primary care in rural and underserved communities

The following strategies can improve access to primary care in rural and underserved communities.

Increase healthcare providers in rural areas

Rural communities must make the most efficient and strategic use of their healthcare staff. For example, allowing each professional to work at the top of their license, utilizing new healthcare providers, and investigating alternatives to increase the number of trained and licensed allied health professionals able to provide healthcare in rural regions gives better access to quality healthcare.

Expand telehealth and telemedicine

The expansion of telehealth and telemedicine is a strategy for improving access to primary care in rural and underserved communities by increasing access to care, improving health outcomes, reducing disparities, and providing virtual consultations, all of which offer numerous benefits to millions of people living in rural areas, such as follow-up visits, medication management, and a variety of clinical services. Patients can be diagnosed, treated, and cared for in the privacy of their own homes.

Invest in community health centers

Investing in community health centers is a proven technique for increasing access to primary care in rural and underserved areas. Investing in community health centers can assist in tackling social determinants of health, such as access to high-quality medical care and providing inexpensive, accessible, and comprehensive primary care services to underserved groups.

Remove financial barriers to care

Improving access to primary care in rural and underserved populations requires removing financial barriers to care. For example, consider the following policy implications: Financial hindrances to reproductive, maternity, and neonatal health services can be improved upon by policies. These policies may include the elimination of user fees, the provision of free or subsidized care, and the expansion of access to health insurance. Government health expenditure, partnerships, and home-based medical treatment are among the approaches to removing financial obstacles to care.

Promote health education and prevention

Health education programs: As a technique for health promotion and illness prevention, health education programs can assist target audiences in learning about certain health subjects. Health education offers targeted audience information on specific health subjects, such as the health benefits/threats they face and tools to build capacity and support behavior change in an appropriate context. Lectures, courses, seminars, workshops, and classes are examples of health education activities.

Support innovative healthcare delivery models

It is critical to support innovative healthcare delivery methods to improve access to primary care in rural and underserved populations. An example of an innovative healthcare delivery paradigm is as follows:

Care delivery models: Models of care explain several approaches to healthcare delivery that differ in setting, kind of care provider, demographic, or patient experience. Applied care models are part of broader delivery categories such as integrated care, outpatient care, telehealth, consumer-focused care, ambulatory care, diagnostic hospitals, digital hospitals, etc.

Empower communities to advocate for health needs

Empowering communities to advocate for their health is vital for improving rural health outcomes. Here are some techniques for empowering communities to advocate for their own health needs:

  • Participatory community research (PCR): This is a collaborative research strategy in which community members are involved in all phases of the study process. This method encourages individuals and communities to solve their health concerns. PCR can assist in identifying health needs and priorities in rural communities.

  • Supporting government and local governments can help improve populations' health and well-being while offering new prospects for meaningful and regenerative growth. Investing in policies that promote health equity and address social determinants of health gives better access to care.

Enhancing access to primary care in rural and underserved populations necessitates a multimodal approach that addresses various issues, such as social determinants of health, workforce shortages, transportation issues, and health literacy. Investing in community health centers, removing financial barriers to care, promoting health education and prevention, and empowering communities to advocate for their health needs can all help improve access to primary care in rural and underserved communities. We can achieve health equity and improve health outcomes for all people by applying these policies, regardless of their geographic location or socioeconomic level.

Mike Szczesny is the owner and vice president of EDCO Awards & Specialties, a dedicated supplier of employee recognition products, branded merchandise, unique awards and athletic awards. Szczesny takes pride in EDCO's ability to help companies go the extra mile in expressing gratitude and appreciation to their employees. He resides in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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