Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Health providers boost rural economies, tax bases

We've often noted the shortage of doctors in rural areas and its impact on access to health care; that shortage may also affect rural economies. When health care providers leave an area, the community loses a significant portion of its tax base, Lynda Waddington of The Iowa Independent reports. She writes, "Doctors are an important component of the rural economy, improving conditions far beyond the walls of an examination room."

A 2007 study from the National Center for Rural Health Works at Oklahoma State University shows a full-time primary care physician generates, on average, approximately $1.5 million in revenue, $900,000 in payroll and creates 23 jobs. Clinic employment, inpatient services, outpatient activities and the multiplier effect of these factors all contribute to this large effect, Waddington reports. The study also documents that when rural residents travel to urban centers for health care they shop, eat and spend money in other areas of the urban economy instead of their hometown. The study estimates a rural community with a shortage as low as one-half of one full-time physician can lose $236,565 from clinic visits and $451,169 net revenue at a local hospital.

Despite this evidence, few rural communities include attracting health care providers in their plans for economic development, , Waddington reports. To increase health care access, rural communities have begun recruiting doctors through "stay at home" programs designed to encourage local students to return home after college and rural residency programs at several medical schools. (Read more)

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