Rural residents generally have fewer visits with medical
specialists and travel farther for medical services for
care than their urban counterparts. These issues can pose
serious challenges for older Medicare beneficiaries. This
study compared, at a national and Census Division level,
total number of visits received, where rural and urban
Medicare beneficiaries received care, which types of
providers were seen, and how far beneficiaries traveled
to obtain care.
In 2014, rural beneficiaries received slightly more total
visits than urban beneficiaries. Rural beneficiaries
received the majority of their visits (51.7%) from
generalist physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician
assistants compared to 38.1% among urban beneficiaries.
Median one-way travel times for rural residents from
isolated small rural areas were particularly long, often
exceeding one hour for serious conditions such as cancer
and ischemic heart disease. Overcoming problems with
geographic access to care issues will require a rurally
committed generalist workforce that offers a wide range
of services and assures efficient access to specialist
services when necessary.