Nov 15, 2023 - News

New study shows benefits of paying doctors to go to rural Iowa

Illustration of a stethoscope on the male figure in the painting "American Gothic".

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios. Photo: GraphicaArtis/Getty Images

Instead of hiring more doctors to practice in declining rural areas, an easier way to solve Iowa's healthcare shortage might be to incentivize them to travel, according to new research from the University of Iowa.

Driving the news: A study co-authored by marketing professor Tom Gruca shows that a state-funded public subsidy could encourage more specialists to travel and work part-time in Iowa's rural areas.

Why it matters: Most specialists, like cardiologists, live in urban areas.

  • While some are willing to travel to provide care, they often end up losing money by driving two to three hours instead of seeing patients during those times.

By the numbers: The U.S. is expected to have just 83% of the cardiologists needed to meet patient demands by 2035 due to increasing retirement rates, according to the study. Those retirements are expected to disproportionately hurt rural areas.

  • Nationally, about 2,000 cardiologists leave practice every year — but fellowship programs graduate only about 1,500.
  • There are fewer than 200 cardiologists in Iowa and the vast majority practice in urban areas.

The intrigue: A $403,000 annual public subsidy for traveling cardiologists in Iowa would be enough to keep the current level of care for rural areas, even if there's a 10% decline in available specialists, the study reports.

The bottom line: Rural Americans have a 19% higher risk of developing heart failure compared to urban residents, according to the National Institute of Health.

  • Public subsidies for specialists may be one solution to help solve rural healthcare access.
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