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New study says location is a factor in Hoosier access to health care

IU School of Medicine • 1/21/16


INDIANAPOLIS — In its latest report, “Hoosier Health and Access to Care,” the Indiana University Public Policy Institute points out the link between a county’s health status and its access to providers and geographical location in the state.

“Hoosiers living in suburban and midsized communities have better access to care and report better health outcomes than those living in urban and rural areas,” said Sue Burow, who wrote the report and is a senior policy analyst at the Institute. “Urban areas like Marion County need more health care providers in certain parts of the county. And other areas lack qualified health professionals and nearby facilities.”

The research followed the geographical areas of the Institute’s Thriving Communities, Thriving State project (a study focusing on rural, midsized and urban communities) using a framework of the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute as well as an assessment of the Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) in the state.

With the demand for more health care workers and existing shortages found in many areas, the Health Resources and Services Administration has created HSPAs for all counties nationwide.

“In Indiana, the HSPA designation tells us that we not only need primary care physicians and dentists, but also many counties do not have the recommended number of mental health providers,” Burow said, noting that access to mental health treatment is an issue for many communities around the state.

The report acknowledges that factors such as the number of days a county reports poor physical or mental health and the percentage of adults reporting poor or fair health are good indicators of the health of a community.

In taking a closer look at potential solutions to health care shortages, communities have implemented resources such as student loan forgiveness initiatives, scholarships, physician bonuses and other supplemental incentives.

Other key findings include:

  • Indiana residents report different health status based on their location in the state. Midsized areas report the lowest number of poor or fair health days, while rural areas report the highest.
  • Rural residents have lower access to health care providers, often well below the statewide rate.
  • Only 9 percent of physicians statewide practice in rural areas, down from 25 percent in 1940.
  • The share of Indiana physicians in midsized areas has increased from 17 to 28 percent since 1940.
  • There is strong demand for health care practitioners at various education levels throughout the state.
  • Programs are available to assist communities in attracting and retaining health care practitioners.

About the IU Public Policy Institute

The IU Public Policy Institute delivers unbiased research and data-driven, objective, expert analysis to help public, private, and nonprofit sectors make important decisions that impact quality of life in Indiana and throughout the nation. A multidisciplinary institute within the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs, we also support the Indiana Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations.