The shortage of rural physicians is a “huge problem,” said Dr. Howard Rabinowitz, professor of family and community medicine at Thomas Jefferson University’s Medical College.
“About 20% of the population lives in rural areas but only 9% of physicians practice there,” said Rabinowitz who has studied the issue for more than 30 years.
He said insufficient insurance payments, administrative hassles tied to insurance claims, and rising business and malpractice insurance expenses are among the most commonly cited reasons for why rural medicine is losing appeal among doctors.
The United States has about 66 million people living in areas, both rural and urban, that the government recognizes as underserved, according to the Department of Health.
The agency estimates that about 7,438 primary care physicians are needed to bridge this shortfall.
In addition, Rabinowitz said trends at medical schools are further exacerbating the rural medical care crisis.
Fewer people from rural areas are applying to go to medical schools, he said, and about half of the students from rural areas don’t want to go back to their communities to practice medicine.