Lots of things can affect your access to health care -- through no fault of your own. For instance, many rural hospitals have closed in recent years, and more are at risk of closing. Problems like this can have ripple effects on you and those you love. Here are some common barriers to care, whether you live in a city or the country, and how you can overcome them.

What Are Some Common Barriers to Getting Health Care?

These are a few common roadblocks to health care:

Few services or staff. When health care is harder to access, you may face:

  • Fewer hours when you can get care
  • Appointment times that don’t work for you
  • Long waiting room times
  • Trouble finding long-term care from the right doctors
  • Long travel times

These hurdles may pose an extra challenge for you when seeking certain services. That includes things like dental, mental health, or emergency care.

Lack of transportation. This may be a problem for many reasons. You might:

  • Not have a trusty car
  • Lack access to public transit
  • Not be able to drive or have no one to drive you  
  • Not have money for a cab
  • Be worried about street safety

Getting to care providers may be tough for other reasons, too. You might need to go to different places for tests and specialists. Or you may need to travel long distances, such as for specialty care. This may be tough if you have a long-term condition or need to take lots of time off work.

Poor internet connection. Today, many people connect with their providers online. They do this to make appointments, ask their doctor questions, or have video chats. But this is tricky if you can’t easily connect online.

What Are Some Solutions for Overcoming Barriers to Health Care?

Although you may find yourself up against barriers to accessing the system, there are some solutions for finding the care you need. Here are a few “out of the box” options:

Patient navigators. Sometimes called patient advocates, these people may be hospital staff members, nurses, or social workers. They help you understand the health care system better. They also help you get around stumbling blocks. They can:

  • Connect you to community resources and social services
  • Give you information about any conditions you have
  • Guide you from one health care setting to another, such as from a primary care doctor’s office to a specialist or a treatment center
  • Help you follow up with your doctors
  • Serve as a go-between with your insurance provider or employer

Online patient support. These services connect you with a trained person who can guide you through the health care system. Greater National Advocates helps people manage their interactions with doctors, insurance companies, and care facilities. You can search their directory to find someone to help you. Patients Rising Concierge is another option. Among other things, it provides access to a network of public and nonprofit programs and resources.

Transportation aid. Ask your doctor or other staff about help in your community. Your hospital may partner with local transportation services to provide free or low-cost options. This might include things like:

  • Gas cards
  • Bus passes
  • Taxi or ride-sharing services

Telehealth. More and more, doctors provide health care through mobile phones or computers. This is called telehealth. It can be a big help, especially if you have trouble getting around. Telehealth can help doctors:

  • Watch long-term conditions such as heart or eye disease
  • Offer services such as home-based rehab
  • Provide quick emergency advice
  • Help keep you out of the hospital

Cell phones may be an option where high-speed internet is lacking. For example, programs that help people quit smoking may use texting to send brief, upbeat messages.

Free or Low-Cost Options

The U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) may be a good place to start. Go to its directory of health centers and enter your ZIP code to find health centers near you. They provide care on a sliding scale. You can receive care even if you don’t have insurance or can’t pay. This site also links to places that offer telehealth services.

Hill-Burton program. This special program offers free or reduced-cost health care to those who have low incomes. You can check their website for a directory of facilities. If one is nearby, you can apply. Check at the admissions or business office to see if you can get it. Be prepared to provide proof of income. You may be able to get free care if your income is at or below the federal poverty guidelines, or reduced-cost care if you make as much as two times this level.

State Offices of Rural Health. These offices link small rural communities with state and federal resources and information. They also help build networks to get you the best care you can.

A program in Georgia is one example. It helps you get low-cost access to drugs, whether or not you have insurance. Good Pill is a nonprofit pharmacy that charges a small flat fee and delivers the drug right to your home. Good Pill is able to provide drugs more cheaply. It does this by getting access to donated surplus supplies. It may be a good option for you if:

  • You take meds for a chronic condition.
  • Your meds cost a lot.
  • You have trouble getting to a pharmacy.

You can check the Rural Health Information Hub website to see the kinds of services your state offers.

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