A Staggering Physician-To-Patient RatioRead Time: 4 minutes
Even though 20% of the US population lives in rural areas, community hospitals are struggling. In fact, the physician shortage is so significant that the physician-to-patient ratio in small communities is 1 to 2,500. This means that if even one physician retires from a rural hospital, the impact is substantial.
Rural communities often have complicated challenges in healthcare. Many of the people in these populations are Medicare or Medicaid patients and of a lower socioeconomic status. These patients also have limited options for healthcare, simply based on being in a remote location. Rural populations often lack relationships with primary care providers, leading to poorer health outcomes and higher emergency department usage. For rural hospitals, serving these patients in a cost-efficient manner is often a struggle.
Selling a rural lifestyle can be challenging. However, for the right person, a small community can be the perfect fit. The slower pace of life in these communities can be appealing to some physicians. There is often no traffic or significant commute to work, rural communities are often in beautiful parts of the country, and physicians don’t deal with the same business pressures of urban hospitals.
Over 90% of hospitals in the US utilize temporary physicians to help deal with staffing shortages. In rural areas, hiring locum physicians can be particularly strategic. Hospitals can use staffing to fill in areas of specialty and expertise that are difficult to recruit for. These physicians can also help ensure that rural hospitals have adequate staffing during busy seasons or when implementing new operations. Additionally, temporary staffing solutions can be an opportunity to find out if a specific physician is a good fit for the area before hiring full-time.
In the healthcare industry, there has been a focus in recent years on making sure that residents and medical students have opportunities to train in rural settings. Doctors who train in these environments can grow in knowledge and confidence and are more likely to settle in a rural community after graduating.
Changing healthcare with telehealth
Telemedicine is an area of healthcare with significant opportunities for rural hospitals. For example, telecase management is a lower-cost solution that helps ensure patients have access to help 24/7. These remote case management centers can provide resources and triage patients, leading to better care coordination and improved outcomes.
Facing physician shortages
Rural physician shortage is a real problem. The healthcare community needs to continue identifying ways to recruit and retain more physicians to rural areas. Additionally, solutions such as locum tenens hiring, training in rural areas, and telecase management can all help bridge the gap for rural hospitals.