If you or someone you know is among the 8.9 million people in the U.S. with a disability living in a rural area, you realize how life can be a lot more challenging.
Services and support aren’t readily available like they are in metropolitan areas, especially when it comes to access to healthcare. Most people want to keep their independence and preserve their health the best way possible. Living in a rural area shouldn’t be a hindrance to quality, affordable care. But sometimes it is.
We’ve written about tips for getting better access to affordable healthcare, including applying for Medicaid, seeing a nurse practitioner, and taking advantage of telemedicine. Let’s dive in a little more with a look at social work, preventive measures, and utilizing as many resources as possible.
Social Work & Telehealth
The insurance challenges present for those in rural areas are that only a small percentage of people have employee-provided healthcare coverage; 64 percent are covered by private insurance; and two thirds of uninsured rural residents do not live in states with access to Medicaid, according to University of Nevada, Reno.
For several years now, telehealth has been touted as a way for people to reduce the burgeoning costs of healthcare. The idea is that instead of making a trip to the doctor’s office, people can get similar care in an online consultation, which could result in savings of time and money.
Social workers are continuing to utilize technology-assisted therapy to reach people in rural areas. Telehealth, or remote healthcare, covers a broad range of health services by using technology and the internet to connect people to health information and treatments in real time. Videoconferencing, online chatting, and text messaging are a few of the ways services can be delivered.
The internet bridges the gap between patients and providers by using technology to help people in the comfort of their own homes. Technology makes it easier to get access to care regardless of their geographic location.
Comprehensive Health Checkups/Preventive Health
People with disabilities and physical challenges living in rural areas are an especially vulnerable population which is why it’s important to get routine health screenings to maintain good health. Comprehensive preventive care should include physical health screenings for certain types of cancer and high blood pressure; mental health screenings that are often overlooked in routine annual exams; and administration of vaccines that could reduce the risk of potential illnesses. Risk assessment and healthy lifestyle counseling is also part of preventive healthcare measures.
“People with disabilities often do not receive basic primary and preventive care others take for granted, such as weighâins, preventive dental care, pelvic exams, xârays, physical examinations, colonoscopies and vision screenings,” according to AAHD.
Vision screenings are an example of a common preventive measure for people with disabilities and the population as a whole. Presbyopia, a gradual loss of the lens, is common with aging but with regular eye checkups, a doctor will be able to spot it. You may need bifocals or even Lasik as part of presbyopia treatment.
Vision problems may be secondary to a main condition but more serious problems can develop if ignored. People who are prone to heart disease, hypertension and obesity are also more susceptible to vision loss.
Women with reduced mobility are more likely to have osteoporosis as a secondary condition, yet are less likely to receive preventive therapy, treatment, and spine and hip testing. It’s concerning because falls and injuries are reported at higher rates than the general population.
- Rural Health Information Hub provides resources and an access to care “toolkit” for rural people with disabilities.
- Housing Assistance Counsel is a nonprofit that helps build homes across rural America, including housing for people with disabilities.
- National Aging and Disability Transportation Center provides services in rural and small urban communities.
- The Rural Disability Resource Library is an online service for people with disabilities in remote areas.
Access to health services should continue to improve in the next decade as access to routine medical care becomes more prevalent for people living in rural areas. Barriers to care impacts a person’s quality of life, but by taking preventive measures, finding a good social worker, and utilizing available resources, people can get the help they need.
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