By Paul Hodgeman, RPA-C, Post-Acute Care
As an employee of TeamHealth for more than seven years, I have had the opportunity to work in many rural healthcare facilities. I have spent my entire career in the Upstate New York area, both prior to working for TeamHealth and since. One in five Americans live and work in rural areas, and working in a smaller area has provided some challenges that can be frustrating at times, especially when it comes to accessing specialty care and healthcare in general.
Meeting the Unique Needs of Rural Patients
Currently, I spend my days in post-acute care and in long-term nursing and rehab centers. There are many long-term residents that become acutely ill and require care outside of that which can be provided within the facility. It is not always easy to schedule appointments in a timely fashion to accommodate their needs. Whether it is due to lack of the specialty care available, insurance coverage or timeliness of appointment, this can be extremely frustrating for the provider and patient alike. Transportation can also be a factor as these specialists may be outside of the county in which the patient resides.
One of the ways I have found to ease this frustration is to ensure all necessary labs, diagnostics and exams have been performed prior to making any referral. This will often expedite the process as the specialist will see we have done all that is available to us regarding the situation. Speaking directly with the specialist may also be necessary to ensure adequate access.
Finding Opportunities among Challenges
Regarding access to medical care in general, there are often shortages of medical providers in the rural setting. I, myself, cover four different nursing and rehab centers each week. Rural healthcare does not always attract a multitude of providers willing to do this. Nonetheless, all of us working in this area do all we can to ensure our patients are well taken care of. Though we face certain challenges, there are also many opportunities. We are able to ground our work in the communities where many of us grew up. We have a tight bond with one another and our patients, and address these challenges together.