Despite rural-to-urban migration trends, millions of Americans still live in rural communities. Census figures show that they make up 25% of the nation's total population; yet fewer than 10% of U.S. physicians practice in rural communities, according to the National Rural Health Association. The situation is likely to get worse as older rural physicians retire and new medical school graduates choose high-paying, non-primary care specialties better suited for urban settings.
The consequences are predictable. A new poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that one out of every four people living in rural areas said they couldn't get the health care they needed recently. And about a quarter of those said the reason was that their health care location was too far or difficult to get to.