Article Title

Perceived Barriers to Accessing Specialized Medical Care in Rural Communities of Ontario: A Pilot Study

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Background. Rural residents seeking health care face barriers due to a shortage of healthcare professionals and the travel distance required to obtain medical services. This can lead to potentially harmful health outcomes, particularly when these citizens are unable to access specialized medical care. Few studies have specifically evaluated rural residents’ ability to access medical specialists.

Methods. A pilot study was conducted to examine rural residents’ ability to access specialized care. This quantitative pen and paper survey was implemented in two communities with similar health care infrastructure (Tweed, Ontario and Hensall, Ontario).

Findings. The majority of respondents (75.8% n= 72 in Tweed and 77.8% n=77 in Hensall;) had received a referral to see a medical specialist in the last five years (total of 352 referrals), which necessitated travelling beyond their communities. Only 5.4% (n=8) of respondents from both communities felt that the travel distance was “too far”. Other important issues identified by respondents included the need for more health services (such as more after-hours access to primary care) as well as the need for better access to medical specialists.

Conclusion. Although access to medical specialists in each community is limited, the distance required to access medical specialists in larger centres is not currently perceived to be a barrier to rural residents receiving specialist care. This suggests that barriers to accessing specialist care are surmountable in moderately rural communities and the travel distance to medical specialists is not a significant contributor to poor health outcomes for rural residents.

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