What Are Healthcare Deserts?

In a world of rapid technological and medical advancement, it's disheartening to acknowledge that not everyone has equal access to healthcare. Over the last few years, especially coming out of the pandemic, the term “healthcare desert” has emerged to describe areas of the country where quality healthcare services are scarce.  

According to research done by GoodRX, 121 million Americans live in healthcare deserts. This broad lack of access leads people to not seek medical care who may need it, a dangerous trend that decreases overall life expectancy and increases the likelihood of further medical conditions. Understanding healthcare deserts and the available tools, however, can help mitigate the inequalities of traditional healthcare access and foster healthier communities.  

Understanding Healthcare “Deserts”  

“Healthcare desert” is a term used to describe geographical areas where access to healthcare is severely limited or non-existent. According to researchers from GoodRX, a staggering 80 percent of counties in the United States are technically considered healthcare deserts.  

Researchers concluded that in order to have adequate access to healthcare, counties must have access to all five of the following: 

1. Pharmacies 
2. Primary Care Providers 
3. Hospitals 
4. Trauma Centers 
5. Low-cost Healthcare  

The absence of any of these healthcare resources could leave residents grappling with significant obstacles when seeking medical attention. As a result, preventable illnesses may go untreated, chronic conditions may worsen, and overall health outcomes are disproportionately affected. 


Understanding the Problem 

The problem of healthcare inequality affects almost half of all U.S. citizens. There are also a multitude of factors ranging from economic barriers to geographical challenges which cause the existence of healthcare deserts and prevent adequate care.  

Geographical Barriers- In rural areas, the sparse population and limited infrastructure make it hard for healthcare providers to establish and maintain facilities. Urban areas, on the other hand, might have medical facilities concentrated in certain neighborhoods or aimed at the larger, more dense population, leaving others underserved.  

Economic Barriers- Lower-income communities and families often face financial barriers that prevent them from accessing healthcare services. Lack of insurance, high deductibles, and out-of-pocket expenses can deter individuals who cannot afford it from seeking care. 

Provider Barriers- Healthcare professionals tend to gravitate toward urban and more affluent areas due to better compensation and professional opportunities. This leaves rural and low-income communities struggling to attract and retain skilled medical personnel. 

Transportation Barriers- Limited access to public transportation can make it difficult for residents of healthcare deserts to reach far-away medical facilities. This issue is exacerbated for individuals who are elderly, disabled, financially challenged, or lack reliable transportation. 


Currently in the United States,  

  • 40 percent of counties are pharmacy deserts (15 minute+ drive to the nearest pharmacy) 
  • 9 percent of counties are primary care deserts  
  • 20 percent of counties are hospital deserts (30+ minute drive to the nearest pharmacy, 2 hospital beds for every 1000 people)  
  • 40 percent of counties are trauma center deserts (60+ minute drive to the nearest trauma center) 
  • 45 percent of counties are low-cost healthcare deserts (20+ minute drive to nearest federally funded health center)  

Healthcare deserts are a distressing reality that highlight the deeply rooted inequalities in healthcare access. Addressing this issue requires a multi-faceted approach involving technology like telehealth, policy changes, community engagement, and systemic reform. By working together, we can dismantle healthcare deserts and ensure that every individual, regardless of their location or economic status, has the opportunity to access the healthcare they deserve. 

A comprehensive telehealth tool should always aim to close the gap between quality healthcare and people who lack access. Read about Kokomo24/7®’s Telehealth Solution here 

Why Kokomo24/7®? 

Kokomo24/7® is a leader in compliance and risk management solutions for all things health and safety. Founded in 2018, Kokomo24/7® has a significant track record across Fortune 1000 companies as well as public-sector clients like the Los Angeles Unified School District and Chicago Public Schools. Ask us about the time we helped host the Oscars!  

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