Access to Healthcare in Rural Areas

Access to healthcare is essential for a community’s health, but not all residents have equal access. Barriers to healthcare can affect both the quality of care a patient receives and their overall health outcomes. RHIhub’s Access to Healthcare Topic Guide explores how factors such as location, transportation and communication can affect healthcare accessibility in rural areas.

While having a physician is necessary to receive healthcare services, that alone does not guarantee access to the health system. As a result, many people in rural areas face barriers to accessing healthcare, including long distances and lack of reliable transportation. This can negatively impact the ability to make appointments and keep scheduled visits, as well as to obtain the medical treatment they need.

A 2017 Rural & Minority Health Research Center Findings Brief reports that there are 660,893 people in rural areas who have limited primary care access (counties without a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), Rural Health Clinic (RHC), or acute care hospital). Additionally, people in rural areas often have higher rates of chronic illnesses and inactivity levels, and more than double the rates of infant mortality, homicides and adult major depressive episodes compared to urban residents.

In addition, rural residents may face financial barriers to healthcare access. For example, some individuals need to travel long distances for specialty care and must pay for transportation costs, which can be particularly difficult when they are unemployed or unable to take time off from their jobs. Other obstacles include the availability of public transit and other transportation options in their rural communities. access to healthcare in rural areas