Rural Behavioral Health

About 60 million Americans live in rural areas according to the US Census Bureau. However, the percentage of the US population living in rural areas is decreasing – only 20% of the population today, down from almost 25% a decade before.

In the majority of rural counties, the population is decreasing. These trends are especially pronounced in rural counties in the Midwest, Great Plains and Northeast. For decades now, younger adults have been migrating out of the rural communities where they grew up to seek better economic opportunities. But in many counties, older adults have been leaving too. Why would seniors leave family, friends, a home and community they know and love?

Because the healthcare resources they need are not available there.

The population in rural counties skews older than in other geographies. The median age of adults in rural counties is 51, as opposed to 45 in urban areas. The population of seniors, 65+ years old, is 18% of rural counties as opposed to 13% for suburban counties. And the population is unhealthier, with higher occurrences of cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Yet the healthcare resources to treat this large population in need of help are not there. There are 105 primary care physicians per 100,000 people in urban and suburban counties. In rural areas, the number is 65. And the maldistribution of resources in many medical specialties is even more uneven. Behavioral health, especially psychiatry, is one of the specialties of greatest scarcity across the US, but especially in rural areas

Psychiatric Care Shortage

The United States is suffering from a dramatic shortage of psychiatrists and other mental health providers. And the shortfall is particularly dire in rural regions. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reported that there are about 28,000 psychiatrists in the U.S., but that number is dwindling rapidly since those practices are aging. Three in five psychiatrists, currently in practice are 55 years of age or older.

In the United States, nearly one in five people has some sort of mental health condition. And the disease burden of mental health and substance use disorders was higher than for any other condition reported the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2015. 5.8 Million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease which accounts for 60-70% of those with dementia. By 2025, the number of people 65 and older, with Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias is estimated to reach 7.1 million.

The needs for mental health care are increasing while the number of mental health professionals is decreasing. Due to an aging population and a lack of experienced and trained professionals, there is increasing demand for healthcare professionals in rural areas, leading to a significant opportunity for telehealth. With Forefront Telecare we can see patients at a clinically optimal frequency, even in remote areas.

The Opportunity at the Forefront of Rural Health

Forefront Telecare was founded in 2010 to combat this problem in rural areas. With demand for behavioral health services growing rapidly and the resources to provide care decreasing, only through greater efficiency of delivery of care can the problem be addressed. We think that Telehealth is a key part of any solution. For nearly 10 years, we have been providing the highest quality of behavioral care, including psychiatry and psychology, via Telehealth to patients in rural areas across the country, from sea-to-sea, from border-to-border. And we have made it our special aim to serve the population of vulnerable seniors in these areas and to help them maintain their highest quality of life, in the communities they call home.

This is our calling.

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