Sick Kids in Rural Areas Can't Find a Dose of Doctor Care

Filed under: Health & Safety: Babies, In The News, Health & Safety: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Health & Safety: Big Kids

If you live in a rural area, it may be hard to find a doctor for your child, a new study shows. Credit: Getty

When a kid gets a nasty cough, fever or is up screaming all night with an earache, most parents can race the sick child over to the pediatrician's office the next morning. With a dose of antibiotics, the little one (and everyone else in the house) is usually feeling better within 24 hours. But that's only if you live in the right place.

Though there are plenty of children's doctors in the United States, nearly 1 million kids live in rural areas where there are no doctors, a new study finds. Meanwhile, some metropolitan areas are crawling with family physicians and pediatricians -- about one doctor for every 140 kids in some places.

As a result, children in more urban areas have better access to health care, the study, published online this week in the journal Pediatrics, reports.

It seems there are enough physicians to go around, they're just not in all the right places. In fact, the number of pediatricians more than doubled between 1996 and 2006, and family physicians jumped by 35 percent, according to Time magazine.

"We are training enough doctors, but they are not choosing to go to areas where they are most needed," Scott Shipman, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School, tells Time's health site.

Shipman tells the magazine he is calling for incentives to get doctors to rural areas, as
the disparity has lots of implications for the health care system. But for parents, it speaks volumes about whether or not you can find a doctor to take your child to, Shipman says.

The new study shows there are essentially equal numbers of kids who live in areas of abundant supply or undersupply, according to Pediatrics. There are 15 million children -- 20 percent of kids in the United States -- who live in areas where child health care is plentiful. But another 15 million live in areas in nearly every state where the ratio of pediatricians and family physicians is 22 for every 100,000 kids. That's a patient load of more than 4,500 kids per doctor.

On average, in the United States there are 1,420 kids per doctor, though every state has its own misdistributions, with low-supply and high-supply areas, Time reports.

Overall, Washington, D.C., has the highest per-capita supply of doctors -- 443 kids per doctor, or 100 percent of children in high-supply areas, defined as fewer than 1,000 children per doctor. Next in line is Vermont at 933 kids per doctor, according to Time.

Nevada is at the opposite extreme, with 2,151 kids per doctor. Mississippi, where 42 percent of children live in undersupplied areas, defined as more than 3,000 children per doctor, claims the highest proportion of kids in low-supply areas, the magazine reports.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.