The VA has taken steps to ensure rural veterans have access to healthcare services by creating community outpatient clinics and utilizing mobile clinics and telehealth services. Unfortunately, the closure of rural health centers or the interruption of services can have a detrimental effect on access to healthcare in rural communities. To combat this, the NMPHC has partnered with the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson to provide psychiatric medicine management through telehealth. RHIHub's thematic guide on the use of telehealth in rural healthcare provides an overview of how this technology is used to improve access to healthcare. In the event of closures, alternative models and types of providers may be necessary to meet access needs in rural areas.
In urban areas, public transportation is often available for patients to get to medical appointments; however, this is not always the case in rural areas. When there is no provider of detoxification services in a rural community, the local emergency room or county jail may be used as substitutes, although they are not ideal. To increase access to healthcare, rural communities must use their health professionals in the most efficient and strategic ways. Despite the importance of oral health, access to dental care is very limited or difficult to access in many rural and remote communities. Pharmacy services can also be a challenge in rural cities, especially when the city's only pharmacist is about to retire.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted unequal access to telehealth services due to lack of broadband Internet access in some rural areas. Substance use disorder services are also lacking in many rural communities across the United States. Community paramedicine is a model of care that allows paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) to provide health services without duplicating existing services. Care coordination and team care models such as responsible care organizations and patient-centered medical homes (PCMHs) can also expand access to primary care services in rural communities. In order to improve access to healthcare services in Northeastern Mississippi communities, it is important for local leaders and healthcare providers to consider all available options. Utilizing telehealth, community paramedicine, care coordination models, and other strategies can help ensure that all residents have access to quality healthcare services.