Most people give little thought to calling the doctor and making an appointment when they need one. They know that they will be able to get in with a doctor or an urgent care center and have their medical need addressed in a timely manner. But for many populations across the United States, healthcare remains difficult to access. Whether specific geographic areas or demographics within the community, these populations cannot get care when they need it, leaving them at risk for serious medical issues.
Lack of access to healthcare happens for three main reasons. First, some people cannot access healthcare because of its cost and their income. Second, some people cannot access it because they are uninsured. Finally, some people cannot access it because they do not have quality care in their geographic area.
How far spread is this problem? The National Institutes of Health warns that the number of vulnerable populations is growing, and that means many are leaving their medical needs unmet. Here is a closer look at the extent of this problem, and what initiatives are being undertaken to expand access to those who need it most.
State Populations with Ready Access to Healthcare
Before looking at the neediest populations, first consider those populations who have good access to healthcare. When comparing healthcare costs, outcomes, and accessibility, 10 of the 50 states rank quite high. These are:
- District of Columbia
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
- New Hampshire
- North Dakota
Other Populations with Access to Healthcare
In addition, certain demographics of people tend to have good access to healthcare. Some of these demographics include:
- Upper or middle class income
- Living near a larger city or town
- Young or middle aged individuals
Unfortunately, these groups leave out a significant part of the population. Even within these groups and within the 10 states mentioned above, certain demographics or communities may still lack adequate access.
5 Groups Lacking Access to Healthcare
So which groups struggle to get healthcare when they need it? These five groups are the ones most vulnerable.
1. The Uninsured
The National Institutes of Health estimates 35 million people in the United States lack access to basic health insurance coverage. These are often employed individuals or dependents of employed individuals, so they are not able to access government and state insurance programs, yet they also do not have healthcare coverage through work.
There are many reasons for this growing trend. As the cost of insurance continues to rise, many companies are no longer able to offer it as a benefit to their employees. Shopping for insurance on the private market often leaves people with expensive policies and high-deductible plans. For some, this is an expense they simply cannot afford.
2. Rural Populations
Rural communities often lack access to healthcare. Often, providers are unwilling to establish services in small, rural communities, because they lack large hospital systems and populations with money to pay for services. Those that do have clinics in small rural towns may not have the latest technology to offer the highest level of care possible. This means people must travel away from their home community to get medical care, and this creates several barriers to overcome.
One of those barriers is transportation. Many living in rural communities do not have access to public transportation services to get to the larger cities to access medical care. This means they are left without care if they cannot physically drive themselves there. In fact, around 3.5 million patients go without care because of transportation.
Those that can drive must take time off work and spend money on gas to get to an urban area. This quickly becomes challenging for those living with chronic illnesses that need regular care. Approximately 57 million people in America live in these types of rural areas, so this means many are left without the access they need.
3. The Elderly
Though the elderly often have government-based insurance programs, taking away the barrier of medical coverage, many still have trouble getting care in a timely manner. Those who are on Medicare report struggling with their out-of-pocket costs and lack of supplemental insurance to cover what Medicare won’t cover. Many face transportation struggles, so they cannot get to the doctor or seek treatment for their needs in a timely manner. Some even report doctors not taking their needs seriously simply because they are seniors.
Sadly, many elderly Americans have chronic medical conditions. This makes it even more vital that they get medical care on a timely basis, but many do not have the ability to do so. This, in turn, leaves them without proper treatment for these medical needs.
4. Racial Minorities
Racial minorities appear to have less access to healthcare than Caucasians. This is seen in statistics like these:
- Infant mortality rates are 2.5 times higher for African American infants than white infants.
- African Americans have a life expectancy that is about 10 years less than Caucasians.
- Native American and Latinos have a diabetes rate that is 30% higher than whites
Though these numbers are not all due to lack of healthcare access, that is one of the reasons for this apparent disparity.
5. The Economically Disadvantaged
While people who are below the poverty level can often access free or low-cost healthcare options, those that live at a level above the poverty line and even in the middle class income bracket may not be able to afford healthcare, even if they can access it. Rising costs for medical care are putting it out of reach for many. Couple this with the growing number of high-deductible plans, which require people to pay quite a bit out of pocket before the insurance kicks in, and you have an economic situation that requires many people to turn away from needed healthcare just because of the cost.
Lack of Access Creates Health Concerns
Is lack of access to healthcare a true problem? In one study, the CDC looked at health and insurance coverage, and clearly found that people who did not have insurance had increased risk of medical problems. Some key findings from that report include:
- Nearly half of the people who were uninsured reported an unmet medical need.
- Those who were uninsured were less likely than those who carried insurance to have a primary care physician they saw regularly.
- Only 13 percent of the uninsured patients who had been uninsured for a year or longer had received a flu vaccination.
Solutions for Lack of Access
Lack of access to medical care is a complex problem without any single solution, but one solution that is helping is telehealth technology. Telehealth provides remote access to physicians and medical services, even without a physical clinic in the area. Through video conferencing and cloud-based data, doctors can communicate across large geographic distances to better coordinate care for patients.
In rural areas, telehealth allows small-town doctors to connect their patients with specialists to help provide better overall care. Once the technology is in place, it’s also a more affordable option for those facing cost concerns. It can also eliminate the need to travel to the doctor for routine checks, giving patients the power to connect remotely for these checkups.
Another option providing solution is the rise of Freestanding Emergency Departments. These provide an emergency-room type setting separate from a hospital, so those in communities that lack a hospital can get urgent care when needed.
Government initiatives designed to assist uninsured individuals with getting healthcare coverage through state and federal programs are also helpful in lessening the impact uninsured status as a barrier to healthcare coverage.
Finally, improved community education and outreach to minority populations is important to help bridge the gap and improve overall healthcare access across ethnic groups. By helping ethnic minorities learn about their options and the importance of healthcare, many community groups hope to change the statistics surrounding higher disease and mortality rates in these populations.
Of these solutions, telehealth is one of the most promising to address all five of the needy populations. For those interested in being at the forefront of this change in the medical field, consider an Executive Master of Health Administration degree. An EMHA degree can prepare you for a world where telehealth becomes more prominent, so you will be in a good position to help communities and patients embrace this technology as they seek access to healthcare.