Leading this research is Mary Ford, MS, Director of Evaluation and Analytics, who authored the “Rural Access to Primary Care in New York State” report. Among its findings: While New York State’s urban areas have 15 primary care providers per 10,000 residents, rural areas have only 3.4.
In a recent conversation, Ford talked about key takeaways and next steps for improving access, from increasing reimbursement rates to eliminating barriers to care.
What prompted your focus on rural health?
In writing our last report, which focused on the state of primary care across New York State, we saw a dominant theme emerge: lack of access to primary care in rural areas coupled with economic disadvantage and extreme need for health services in these communities. It became clear to us that additional research would yield valuable new insight.
What’s a key takeaway from the report, broadly speaking?
Rural PCPs really have to do it all. Dr. John Rugge, one of our interviewees, said it best: “If you’re in a rural practice, you really have to see everybody. You can’t tell someone to go down the road. There’s nothing down the road.”
In rural areas, primary care providers (PCPs) are often the source not just for primary care, but also for behavioral health, social support services, and more. Without the PCP anchor in these communities, many rural New Yorkers wouldn’t have any access to health care. It’s hard to overemphasize the value of primary care access.
What surprised you over the course of your research?
Definitely the breadth of challenges facing rural providers and the many differences in the populations that they serve. Due to media coverage and other factors, there tends to be a narrow view of rural populations in terms of some key traits; these are certainly not representative of all communities in New York State or elsewhere.
There are also major distinctions between rural communities across the state which require providers to be responsive to different language, cultural, and health/behavioral needs and to identify unique sources of funding and support. Again, this means rural providers must wear many hats to adequately address their communities’ many needs.
At the same time, it was reassuring to hear about rural health practitioners’ creativity in serving their communities and their dedication to improving the health of rural New Yorkers.
What are some next steps?
This research reinforces how essential PCDC’s capital investment services are to rural, underserved communities. Providers working in rural areas must have the capacity to see as many clients and provide as many high-quality services as possible. It’s also important we have the infrastructure to bill for services and maximize reimbursement opportunities, such as value-based payments, to ensure their viability in rural communities. Action around PCDC’s policy recommendations will begin to address these and other issues, but there’s much more work to be done.