Challenges of Providing Patient Care in Rural Communities

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An unfortunate reality about living in remote, rural areas is that rural health care facilities often lack the funding to hire highly skilled health care providers and to afford the resources that are more widely accessible in urban health care facilities. To improve patient care in rural communities, nurse practitioners will need to educate patients on the best ways they can maintain their health while addressing the following impediments.

Distance and transportation

Rural communities are frequently farm communities, which cover vast expanses of land while having very few residents. With so few residents in a county area, it becomes hard to justify building large hospitals, making long-distance travel a necessary component of receiving health care for most residents of rural communities. Additionally, for disabled or elderly patients who are likely to need ongoing, constant support for chronic health conditions, the costs of frequent travel may become excessive, causing them to avoid seeking much needed treatments for as long as possible.

In any case, if the patients themselves do not have reliable access to personal transportation, the general lack of public transportation infrastructure in rural areas can leave them with few, if any options to receive care, particularly if they need care from a specific specialist provider who may be even further away.[4] As a potential solution, certified nurses who recognize that this issue is inhibiting their patients from receiving the care they deserve can work with their local community members, charitable organizations, and government officials, to promote a plan to develop or expand public transit services that help elderly, disabled, and low-income individuals gain access to health care services.

Shortage of health care professionals

One of the most pressing issues faced by rural health care services is an inadequate workforce, which makes distributing health care more difficult due to patient overflow. The fact that there is a general shortage of educated health care providers across the entire U.S. is magnified in rural communities, as they tend to have less access to the urban-centric health care education system. Even if health care training is made available in rural areas, opportunities to advance their career in urban areas may draw professionals away from working in the rural community.

To remedy the problems related to staff shortages, nurses are advised to encourage their administrators to use strategies that optimize the distribution of the available workforce by implementing programs like telehealth services. This gives each nurse the opportunity to provide the highest level of care as allowed by their education, training, and certification. [5]

Lack of education of health issues

According to the Center on Society and Health, uneducated patients with similar access to health care as their educated peers are more likely to have poorer health. Education systems are generally less accessible or of a lower quality in rural areas, therefore the residents of rural communities are at risk of having less exposure to basic health information, such as the necessity of preventive medicine. Without access to this knowledge, rural patients are more likely to develop unhealthy behaviors which are likely to result in negative health outcomes, like chronic health conditions. By promoting education in their communities, nurses can help their patients develop healthy behaviors, obtain better health outcomes, and eventually increase their overall life expectancy.

Social stigma and privacy

Rural communities have much lower populations than urban communities; therefore members of the community are less likely to maintain anonymity when seeking specific health care services. With that being the case, rural residents are more frequently concerned with privacy when seeking treatment for health concerns that may be embarrassing if discovered by the public, such as mental illness, substance abuse issues, sexually transmitted infections, or pregnancy. To diffuse this challenge, nurses should prioritize the privacy of their patients and educate them regarding the risks of foregoing critical treatment.

Inadequate or no health care coverage

Unemployment rates are higher in rural areas than in urban areas, therefore residents of rural communities are less likely to have access to affordable health insurance coverage. Out-of-pocket costs for health care services can become exorbitant without proper insurance; therefore these residents may become reliant on government backed health services, like Medicare, which still may not cover certain health services, such as long-term personal care or certain prescription drugs. [6]

Programs like the Affordable Care Act aim to provide further assistance to communities that struggle to afford health insurance, but individuals who do not have insurance are still unable to afford much needed treatments. Though, by working with low-cost or charitable primary care facilities, certified nurses can help bring affordable health care to uninsured populations who would otherwise have no options for assistance.

Many residents of rural communities struggle to maintain a desirable quality of life. Nurses that use the education obtained through a Master’s of Science in Nursing program can improve the U.S. health care system by bringing education, expertise, and excellent care to rural communities that desperately need certified care providers to treat their residents.

Learn More

Across the country, a national shortage of primary care providers has set the stage for RNs to advance. As more states certify nurse practitioners as primary care providers, you can pursue a new avenue of nursing to fill meaningful voids in today’s health systems. At Regis College, you can earn an online post-master’s certificate to not just prepare for advancement in nursing, but to also expand services as a primary care provider.

Recommended Readings:

5 Resources for Nurse Practitioners for Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
The Importance of Health Promotion for Family Nurse Practitioners
Best Practices to Promote Cultural Awareness


1. American Hospital Association
2. National Rural Health Association – About
3. The Rural Health Information Hub – Healthcare Access in Rural Communities
4. The Rural Health Information Hub – Transportation to Support Rural Healthcare
5. The Rural Health Information Hub – Rural Healthcare Workforce