Shock Study: Rural Areas More Dangerous than Urban Areas

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RVSU-thumb2A recent study from the Annals of Emergency Medicine, titled “Safety in Numbers: Are Major Cities the Safest Places in the U.S.?,” highlights the urgency behind the need for rural healthcare in America.

According to John Commins at HealthLeaders Media, the study found “that the risk of injury death is about 20 percent higher in rural areas when compared with large cities.”

Obviously, this counters conventional perception, which holds that there is safety in the vast expanse of rural America. The authors of the study were even shocked at their findings.

Lead author Sage Myers, MD, observed, “All of us have this maybe more emotional reaction when you talk about safety as it relates to cities and rural areas… But when you think of safety as your overall risk of injury to your person with all kinds of injuries included, I was surprised to see that it turns out to be the opposite, that cities are the safest.”

Their analysis took into account 1,295,919 injury deaths from 1999 until 2006. “The most common causes of injury death were motor vehicle crashes, leading to 27.61 deaths per 100,000 people in most rural areas and 10.58 per 100,000 in most urban areas,” Commins writes.

Children, along with adults 45 and older, were more likely to be killed in firearm-related incidents in rural areas, while adults 20-44 were less likely. Homicide still reigns supreme in urban areas, but “the risk of unintentional death is 40 percent higher in most rural areas.”

According to Myers, “Overall, the rate of unintentional injury dwarfs the risk of homicide, with the rate of unintentional injury more than 15 times that of homicide among the entire population. The unintentional injuries are what are driving the whole thing. The unintentional injuries are so much higher than homicides and suicides in the rural areas than in urban.”

She hopes this study enlightens the nation to the healthcare needs of rural areas.

“We saw the predominance of injury-related death risk tended to be in areas of the country where we have the least access to emergency physicians and trauma care and maybe we should use this to do more of a population-planning evaluation of how do we put the resources where the needs are as opposed to what is happening now, which is a little more organic,” she observed.

She also emphasized the need for proper staffing at rural emergency departments and trauma-care centers, where personnel is not always adequately trained. “It can only help in the quest to make sure rural hospitals have access to the resources that are needed to care for the population they’re serving. There are lots of rural emergency departments that are staffed by people who may or may not have the full training they need to care for these patients who are severely injured or severely sick. This could help support them as they are trying to move forward.”

As healthcare leaders, perhaps in rural America, what thoughts would you add from your personal experiences to this study’s findings? What are the greatest healthcare needs in your particular area? How can the government provide more effective support to rural America?

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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