Monday, January 04, 2021

Study: rural neurologist shortage means less-specialized care for many patients; expanded telehealth could help

"A shortage of neurologists in rural parts of the United States means that people in those areas are less likely to receive specialized care for conditions such as stroke, dementia and back pain," Robert Preidt reports for HealthDay. That's according to a newly published study in the journal Neurology.

University of Michigan researchers reviewed one year of Medicare data and identified 2.1 million patients who visited a doctor for a neurological condition at least once during that time. Availability of neurologists ranged from a low of 10 for every 100,000 people to a high of 43 for every 100,000 people, Preidt reports.

"Overall, 24 percent of patients with a neurologic condition were seen by a neurologist, but rates varied from 21% in more rural areas to 27% in more urban areas with the most neurologists. Most of that difference involved patients with dementia, back pain and stroke," Preidt reports. "Among dementia patients, 38% of those in more rural areas saw a neurologist, compared to 47% in more urban areas. The rates for stroke patients were 21% and 31%, respectively." More than 80% of Parkinson's disease patients received care from a neurologist no matter where they lived, and the rate was similar for multiple sclerosis patients.

The study underlines the need to expand access to neurologists in rural areas, possibly through telehealth, said James Stevens, president of the American Academy of Neurology.

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