Rural communities face a range of health disparities, from higher burdens of chronic disease to limited access to primary care and prevention services. When compared to people living in urban areas, rural Americans face a greater risk of death from the five leading causes of death — heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease and stroke. Suicide rates are also higher in rural America than in urban areas, with that gap growing steadily since the early 2000s. The opioid addiction and overdose crisis has hit rural communities especially hard — the rate of fatal overdoses is higher in rural communities than in metropolitan ones. Complicating matters, rural residents are often more likely to face social determinants that negatively impact health, such as poverty, transportation barriers and lack of jobs that pay well.
Support telemedicine, school-based health centers and other efforts that connect rural residents to medical and supportive services. Partner with community stakeholders to overcome transportation barriers to care, such as coordinating ride-sharing services or helping residents navigate transit services. Advocate for supportive and evidence-based public health policies, such as easier access to naloxone and continued coverage for mental health and addiction care. Advance partnerships that target the social determinants, such as increasing job training opportunities, growing local employment, and helping children achieve academic success. Support research and collaboration focusing on oral health among rural populations (PDF).
Studies show there are effective ways to tackle the biggest health problems facing rural communities. For example, telemedicine can expand access to care for people without a prior connection to a provider, with no increases in clinical misdiagnosis and errors. Research also shows that increasing access to naloxone can reduce opioid overdose deaths, and that thanks to the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion, about 1.6 million Americans struggling with substance use disorders have gained insurance coverage. Direct care efforts such as school-based health centers also return promising results for children's health and academic achievement.