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Medical Deserts: Eroding Access to Care

A rural brick hospital with an empty parking lot and singular white tent outside of it.

Even though the United States spends twice the amount on healthcare as other developed nations, more than 80% of Americans lack access to healthcare resources. 

That’s right - we spend the most on healthcare, but disparities inhibit who can actually seek the care they need. These patients often find themselves living in healthcare or medical deserts, regions characterized by their partial or total inability to meet individuals' healthcare service needs. These deserts are often caused by factors such as shortages in healthcare facilities and professionals (Healthcare Professional Shortage Areas), long waiting times, skyrocketing costs of care, unstable transportation systems, and socio-cultural barriers.

Rural communities often bear the brunt of healthcare shortages, as only around 11% of the current physician workforce practices in those areas. However, major metropolitan areas are not unscathed, especially those with predominantly Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous communities, and the problem is only growing. In Chicago alone, seven South Side and five West Side safety net hospitals face a projected 2 billion dollars in losses, risking closures that would further erode the city’s access to health care.

Visualizing Medical Deserts

Reviewing the spread of medical facilities and the healthcare workforce across the US can help visualize where providers are most stretched thin and which areas have no immediate access to care. The Rural Health Information Hub offers a state-by-state view into the number of critical access hospitals and clinics across rural areas, identifying where medical deserts are most barren.

GoodRx released a report that showcased over 78 million people living in areas where the nearest low-cost health clinic is over 20 minutes away. Their report also revealed that 47% of US counties are hospital bed deserts where 80 million Americans live where there are not enough hospital beds to meet demand.

An empty room within in a hospital. A sign outside reads 'Practice Nurse.' The inside of the room has a small desk with an older computer and some miscellaneous medical equipment.

Our home state, Georgia, ranks 39th in physicians per capita. The Georgia Board of Health Care Workforce reported that 65 counties had no pediatrician, 73 had no emergency medicine, 82 had no OB-GYN, and 90 had no psychiatrist. 

MedTrans Go works in tandem with other solutions to improve access to care across these medical deserts by connecting healthcare providers with tech-enabled transportation and interpretation solutions that allow them to serve more patients across distance and socio-economic and cultural factors. We emerged to improve access within Georgia but have quickly expanded across the Southeast and rest of the country. 

Together, let’s drive forward the health equity revolution!


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