How Healthcare Deserts Impact People with Disabilities

By Amanda Winstead

It might be hard to believe, but nearly 80% of the country lacks adequate access to healthcare. This is largely due to healthcare deserts in rural communities. While there are plenty of benefits to living in a rural part of the country, access to quality medical care remains a challenge—especially for the disabled and elderly communities who often require specialized care.

Even if people with disabilities may have access to primary care in a rural area, the facility may not have the resources and funding to provide the proper healthcare—thus adding to difficulties people with disabilities may face when seeking out an inaccessible facility. These difficulties may further discourage people with disabilities to seek out help, even when they need it.

If you have a disability, there are proactive steps you can take with your primary doctor to keep visits to a minimum while still getting the care you need and deserve.

Healthcare Disparities in Rural Areas

Healthcare deserts: doctor treats man

Rural Americans are often at a greater risk of poor health outcomes. This is largely due to issues like:

  • Long travel distances to medical facilities
  • Exposure to certain environmental hazards
  • More leisure time

Studies have shown that there are fewer primary care doctors and specialists in rural areas, too. If you're someone with a disability, that can make it extremely difficult to get the help you need, especially if you require specific medications or therapies to improve your condition or improve your comfort and reduce pain.

There are also financial barriers that often keep those in rural communities from getting adequate healthcare. When you consider the hundreds of thousands of dollars doctors and specialists spend on schooling, it makes more sense for them to practice medicine in larger cities where they're more likely to make enough to repay their debts quickly. A small practice in a rural community is likely to be less profitable, so quality practices in those areas are few and far between, creating "deserts" that force people to travel long distances just to get adequate care.

Leverage Technology to Combat Healthcare Deserts

Healthcare deserts are a huge problem across the country, and there needs to be a major overhaul of the system to ensure the majority of the population gets quality care. In the meantime, however, you can be proactive about your health and take positive steps to get the care you need, especially with a disability.

Healthcare deserts: doctor works with girl on vocalizations

One of the best ways you can combat the healthcare disparities in your area is to take advantage of technology. We've seen a boom in telehealth popularity over the last few years. While that rise was initially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many doctors and specialists across the country are still offering telehealth services. Telehealth offers benefits like:

  • Reduced costs
  • Easier access to specialists
  • Access to those in rural areas
  • Better support for people with chronic conditions and disabilities

While there will always be exams and procedures that require in-person visits, telehealth bridges the gap for those who need to connect with their healthcare providers frequently. It allows you to ask questions, share your concerns, and update your doctor on how you're feeling. It also allows them to keep track of your care without actually having to see you face-to-face. If your doctor doesn't offer telehealth services, consider seeking out the help of a specialist who does.

Take Proactive Steps with Your Primary Physician

If you want to cut back on visits with your doctor because it's too difficult to travel or you're spending too much money, be proactive about your health and well-being, as well as your future. Consider asking your doctor for a referral to a specialist that might be able to provide extensive treatment. You specialist can keep your primary in the loop without you taking the time for a physical visit.

For example, if you have mobility issues, a referral to a physical therapist might be able to help you regain some strength and movement, depending on your condition. If your disability is causing secondary conditions like bowel, bladder and gastrointestinal issues, there are specialists who are be better equipped to address and help resolve those concerns more expeditiously.

Working with a specialist will help to minimize the visits to your primary care doctor and give you the direct help you need based on your disability. You'll save time, and resources, and won't burn yourself out on multiple visits.

You might also want to talk to your doctor about natural remedies for pain, like CBD. CBD is becoming more popular and common in the healthcare field as a safe, natural solution for things like stiff joints, inflammation, and pain management. If your disability causes you to struggle with discomfort, a topical CBD solution could help you avoid frequent visits to your doctor for prescription medication.

There's no denying that rural communities are struggling when it comes to getting adequate healthcare support. Thankfully, you don't have to wait for sweeping changes to get the medical care you deserve. Keep these solutions in mind to be proactive with your health.

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