Viewpoint: Rural healthcare needs a transformation

The federal government must come up with a bipartisan solution to improve the quality of rural healthcare, according to Tom Daschle, a former Democratic senator and the cofounder of the Bipartisan Policy Center, and Tom Tauke, a former Republican congressman and cofounder of the House Rural Health Coalition.

Rural residents face broad healthcare disparities due to lack of facilities and physician shortages, wrote Mr. Daschle and Mr. Tauke Aug. 15 in an op-ed for The Des Moines Register. Over 100 rural hospitals have closed in the U.S. since 2010, and 647 other hospitals are at risk of closing. Rural areas also have a lower patient-to-primary care physician ratio with 40 physicians per 100,000 people, compared to urban areas' 53 physicians per 100,000 people.

Expanding rural residents' access to healthcare offers a rare issue on which Democrats and Republicans can agree, the authors wrote. Ninety-two percent of Democrats and 93 percent of Republicans consider rural healthcare access an important issue, according to a survey commissioned by the BPC and American Heart Association.

The authors suggested transforming several inpatient rural hospitals into outpatient centers focused on primary care, such as emergency departments and clinics. A report from the BPC demonstrates not all communities may need a full-service inpatient hospital. The authors also recommended increasing telemedicine services, and they wrote that health systems must make long-term changes to their infrastructures to combat rural areas' lack of healthcare access.

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