By Cassie LaJeunesse
Americans living in rural areas often have higher incidences of disease or disability, higher mortality rates and lower life expectancies, all of which indicate health disparities—differences in health when compared to the overall population. James J. Lehman, DC, MBA, recently presented a webinar titled “Rural Health Disparities and the Chiropractic Solution” through Learn ACA, ACA’s online education platform. In his presentation, he discussed health disparities in America’s rural areas and opportunities for doctors of chiropractic to get involved in rural health clinics.
Dr. Lehman is an associate professor of clinical sciences in the chiropractic school at the University of Bridgeport and also director of the school’s community health clinical education. In addition, he serves as a credentialed chiropractic specialist within a Federally Qualified Health Center in Connecticut.
During the webinar, Dr. Lehman discussed the healthcare challenges facing rural populations in America. Health disparities are often linked to social, economic, and environmental disadvantages and tend to affect groups that experience obstacles to health based on race, religion, socioeconomic status, gender, age, mental or physical disability, geographic location or other characteristics linked to discrimination or isolation.
“There’s a problem with appropriate access to primary care in rural areas,” Dr. Lehman said. “There’s a tremendous amount of opportunity for chiropractors to be part of a solution in providing appropriate health care for rural Americans.”
Many counties across the United States struggle with shortages of healthcare professionals, and many people living in rural areas do not have access to a healthcare facility nearby. Approximately 60 million Americans live in rural areas, which means that 20 percent of the U.S. population is affected by these issues.
Rural residents are much more likely to smoke than their urban or suburban counterparts, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that opioid deaths are 45 percent higher in rural areas. Lack of reliable internet connection restricts rural populations’ access to information, and distance from care means that rural residents often must travel farther to get medical attention.
To combat some of these disparities, rural health clinics (RHC) and federally qualified health centers (FQHC) have been opening across the country since 1977. Dr. Lehman spoke about the legislation that made these clinics possible and that has led to the establishment of about 4,000 RHCs across the nation. He also explained some of the ways that a rural health clinic can benefit not only patients in rural areas, but also the doctors who practice there. RHC legislation authorizes special Medicare and Medicaid payment mechanisms for these clinics, making them a good business decision and a benefit to the community.
As part of the presentation, Dr. Lehman also shared resources on starting rural clinics or finding work in existing clinics.
For those who want to learn more about health disparities and rural health clinics, a recording of Dr. Lehman’s webinar (which offers 1 CE credit) is available on learn.acatoday.org.