Rural-Urban Primary Care Workforce Disparities on the Rise

November 18, 2020 by Christen Aldrich

Filed under For Career Seekers, For Employers, Recruitment & Volunteers

Last modified November 19, 2020

A new article from RevCycleIntelligence examines a recent study published by JAMA Network Open illustrating urban-rural primary care workforce disparities. The study demonstrates that while both rural and urban areas have seen an increase in primary care clinicians in recent years, the density of providers in urban areas remains higher than in rural areas.

Historically, there has been a primary care physician shortage in rural areas associated with longer travel distance to access care. The researchers of the study noted that 82% of rural counties are classified as medically underserved, according to research from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Healthcare professionals have been aware of the rural-urban access to care disparity for many years, and incentives have been put in place to attract primary care physicians to rural areas. However, little research has been done to analyze potential changes in the primary care physician distribution over the past decade. Due to the lack of new data on this significant access to care issue, researchers analyzed trends in the county-level distribution of primary care clinicians from 2009 to 2017.

Some findings from the study are as follows:

  • The significant geographic disparities in the density of clinicians between urban and rural areas widened during the study period.
  • The density increase of primary care clinicians was more pronounced in urban counties than in rural counties.
  • The number of primary care clinicians per 3,500 people increased by approximately 17% in urban counties with a median density of 2.26 in 2009 and a median density of 2.66 in 2017.
  • For rural communities, there was approximately a 12% increase in the number of primary care clinicians with a 2009 median density of 2.04 and a 2017 median density of 2.29.

These findings show that although primary care clinicians have been incentivized to work in rural areas in recent years, urban areas are still seeing a greater rate of growth when it comes to the density of clinicians within a particular county.

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