Medical Deserts

Ambulance on road to hospital Medical deserts is our topic today. We’ve all heard about “food deserts,” parts of the country, usually in urban areas (but not exclusively), lacking full, proper grocery stores that result in poor nutrition options for its citizens. But what about “medical deserts?” What are those?

Medical deserts are becoming a growing problem, particularly in rural areas and poor urban areas. We’ve known for a long time now that certain parts of the country have had a hard time staffing practices and/or finding physicians. And, to try and curb the problem, many programs, including medical education debt forgiveness programs, have tried to incentive-ize doctors to locate to these physician-lacking areas of the country. Sometimes these rural areas have been in need of a general practitioner, other times they have desperately needed OB/GYNs or other specialists.

But, over the last several years, with the constant change in health care economics and dropping reimbursement rates, hospitals are finding it harder and harder to make a profit. As a result, hospitals in both rural and urban areas have been closing and/or merging –resulting in medical deserts. And, when hospitals close, citizens don’t just lose a doctor or two, a specialist or two, they lose many, many types of care and services, along with EDs. (And, the closing of EDs alone over the last 20 years has been its own crisis.) The over-crowding of the remaining EDs causes unique dilemmas, too. It may cause ambulance diversions, possibly resulting in poorer outcomes. Or, it may result in patients leaving without being seen, again resulting in poorer outcomes and potentially more severe return visits.

I’ve got no answers here on how to solve the medical deserts crisis. I just hope that reimbursements may rise and hope that more health insured citizens can help hospitals stay afloat. But, let’s face it, this is all just really part of a larger, way more complex health care problem.

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