Approximately 51 million Americans receive care from rural hospitals. Since 2010, 80 rural hospitals across 27 states have closed, according to the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program. In addition, 44% of rural healthcare providers have an operating margin which is negative. A low patient population and geographic inhibitors have historically presented challenges for rural health providers. Today, rural communities are also facing an opioid epidemic and an ever-changing regulatory environment.
Rural areas are composed of older people with lower incomes and generally poorer health relative to their urban counterparts. Therefore, from a reimbursement prospective, rural area physicians are more likely to be reimbursed at lower rates through Medicare or Medicaid versus private insurance. Lower pay rates and a lack of interest of physicians wanting to live in remote communities continues to drive a physician shortage. According to the American Hospital Association (AHA), telehealth and broadband services can assist in protecting access to healthcare within rural America.