Office Visit: The Importance of Rural Health

November 17, 2017

From The Journal Record

"The National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health (NOSORH) will celebrate National Rural Health Day on November 16 to raise awareness around the importance of rural health care services from both a public health and economic standpoint.

One in five Americans lives in a rural community, yet many of these communities face significant challenges in recruiting physicians and keeping hospital doors open, especially due to dwindling government reimbursements that are unlikely to keep pace with rising costs of medical care over the coming years.

I grew up in Fremont, Nebraska, a town roughly the size of Ardmore, Oklahoma. When I was 3 years old, my father suffered serious injuries from a grain elevator accident and stayed in our local hospital for a few months.

During his stay, I remember idolizing the nurse who cared for him. Not only did she help save his life, she instilled in me the belief that everyone — regardless of where they live — should have access to health care services without having to travel a long distance.

Unfortunately, this is not always the reality.

According to the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program, 81 rural hospitals have closed across the country since 2010 – three of those in Oklahoma.

Access to health care is a critical component of a vibrant community. NOSORH estimates that every dollar spent on rural hospitals generates about $2.20 for the local economy. Since hospitals are usually one of the top employers in a rural community, a hospital closure can have a ripple effect on the local economy.

To ensure the future viability of health care services in rural communities, health care organizations need to think creatively and adopt new technologies, like telemedicine.

Telemedicine — the use of high-tech, audio-visual equipment to connect physicians with patients in different locations — helps remove the constraints of providing care to rural areas, allowing patients more options to see doctors and specialists. It also alleviates the problem of dwindling staff and resources in areas struggling to recruit and retain workers and physicians.

I’m thankful my father had access to our local hospital. He may not have been with us these past 63 years without it. Through innovative thinking, I hope we can continue providing local health care options to families across the state — whether in an urban or rural community."

Di Smalley is regional president of Mercy in Oklahoma.


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