Rural Health Disparities Frequently Asked Questions
What are health disparities?
The Department of Health & Human Services defines
health disparities as differences in the incidence,
prevalence, mortality, and burden of cancer and related
adverse health conditions that exist among specific
population groups in the United States. These populations
groups may be characterized by gender, age, ethnicity,
education, income, social class, disability, geographic
location, or sexual orientation.
What are some of the health disparities found in rural America?
According to the National Rural Health
- Rural communities represent about 20% of America’s
population however less than ten percent of physicians
practice in those communities
- Rural residents are less likely to have
employer-provided health care coverage or prescription
- Rural poor are less likely to be covered by Medicaid
- One-third of all motor vehicle accidents occur in
rural areas however two-thirds of the deaths attributed
to these accidents occur on rural roads
- Fewer dentists practice in rural areas
- The majority of EMS first responders are volunteers
- Rural residents are poorer than their rural
- Alcohol abuse is a significant problem among rural
- Methamphetamine use and admission treatment rates are
higher in rural, non-metro areas
- Rural residents are nearly twice as likely to die
from unintentional injuries other than motor vehicle
- Suicide rates among rural males are significantly
higher than in urban areas and the suicide rates among
rural women are rapidly catching up to that of men
For additional statistics and characteristics, see NRHA’s
What’s Different About Rural Health Care?
Where can I find supporting documents and statistics on rural health disparities?
Several publications identify and describe the
What agencies and organizations are working to seek solutions to these disparities?
Rural Health Policy (ORHP)
Promotes better health care service in rural America.
ORHP is part of the Health Resources and Services
Administration under the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services. ORHP focuses on matters affecting rural
hospitals and health care, coordinating activities
within the department that relate to rural health care,
maintaining a national information clearinghouse, and
providing rural-specific grant programs.
Health Association (NRHA)
Promotes leadership, ideas, information, communication,
education, research, advocacy, and methods to improve
rural health. The organization is composed of
individual and organizational members who share a
common interest in rural health
Agency for Healthcare
Research and Quality (AHRQ)
Sponsors and conducts research with a segment focused
on rural health that provides evidence-based
information on health care outcomes; quality; and cost,
use, and access. ARHQ is also expanding its Health
Information Technology (HIT) portal to have a
rural-specific HIT portal available for public use
There are several rural health research centers designed to
help policy makers understand the problems rural
communities face in assuring access to health care for
their residents. Their research findings inform a wide
audience of national, state, and local decision-makers
concerned with rural health.
For additional information on rural health policy, see
the Rural Health
Policy topic guide. For additional information on
rural health research see the Rural
Health & Human Services Research topic guide.
What membership organizations advocate for rural health?
These are some of the key membership organizations
concerned with rural health issues:
What types of initiatives are being implemented to solve rural health disparities?
Initiatives that seek to improve availability of and
access to health services, improve health care quality
and health care safety, recruit healthcare workforce,
lower health care costs, secure adequate Medicare and
Medicaid reimbursement, and implement up to date
technology that includes HIT and Broadband will minimize
the rural health disparities.
For examples of what can be done at the local level the
Health Association has collected a variety of
Models that Work as part of its Quality Through
Models that Work highlights examples of collaboration
in communities with the goal of improving the quality of
care provided in a community and addressing the needs of
Also, see the Rural Assistance
Center's Success Stories section for summaries of
successful rural projects working to improve health care.
Many of these success stories are products of grant
opportunities distributed by the Office of Rural Health