Challenges for Rural Health Providers


The NPR article about a shortage of physicians in rural Arizona is another example, in my opinion, that demonstrates that patient-provider interactions WILL be changing. The article includes interviews from patients who have to drive long distances for appointments and frequently have their primary care doc move away, requiring them to find a new one. 

We can talk all we want about the shortage of family practice docs because of how lucrative specializing can be for those physicians facing huge school-loan debt (which the article does). But those aspects are unlikely to change, so the reality is that something else needs to. The article touches on the use of telemedicine (real-time video conferencing with docs in other geographic locations), but then dives into the economic and immigration-related reasons for the physician shortage. Maybe telemedicine as we currently know it is not the answer, but I have to believe some combination of telemedicine and other personal-device-driven healthcare will eventually represent at least half of the health encounters most of us have. That is, have a 10 minute video call to describe symptoms and review history, take a sample of your own blood from a home-based device and send it in, and then get your diagnosis, prognosis, and (if necessary) a prescription. I think the days of driving to clinics and sitting in waiting rooms for most of the afternoon when you need to see a doc about your sore throat are numbered…