Rural area
March 28, 2024

Florida is known for its beaches and cities, but there are many rural areas as well. Urban areas like Miami and Orlando are popular, home to 439,890 and 328,535 respectively. Meanwhile, rural residents live in areas with 75,000 or fewer people. These rural counties in Florida include Jackson, Holmes, Madison, Hamilton, Baker, and Nassau, among others. People in rural areas often have limited access to a physician and specialized care. This makes getting treatment a challenge for many.

Health Challenges in Rural Areas

Living in a rural area can have many benefits, but it is also important to understand how rural residents may struggle to access the same quality of healthcare and benefits as people who live in larger cities and even populous suburbs. This guide aims to highlight the struggles people in these rural areas may face.

Limited Access to Healthcare

Living in a rural area poses two significant challenges:

  • Fewer healthcare facilities and providers. There are fewer doctors and hospitals in rural parts of Florida, not to mention fewer labs for diagnostic work and outpatient healthcare facilities for procedures and treatment. Patients will have to travel to receive the care they need, which can become expensive and time-consuming. Not everyone has access to reliable transportation, either, which can make accessing healthcare even more of a challenge.
  • Longer travel distances for medical care. Because people who live in rural parts of Florida need to drive further for medical care, they can be at a higher risk of complications. In an emergency setting, it can take much longer for an ambulance to reach them or for someone to drive to a hospital or urgent care center.

Health Infrastructure

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 46 million Americans (15% of the country) live in a rural community. These people face a higher risk of dying from diseases like cancer, heart attack, respiratory disease, and injury or illness. In fact, unintentional injury deaths are 50% higher for people in rural areas than in other parts of the country. This could be due to the longer amount of time it takes for emergency services to reach someone or the distance they would have to drive to get help in an urgent situation.

There are two major obstacles that lead to increased health risks in these communities:

  • Insufficient healthcare infrastructure. Hospitals, doctor’s offices, healthcare centers, urgent care clinics, and other types of facilities are harder to access in rural areas. Some people could have to drive 1-3 hours just to see a primary care physician.
  • Difficulty accessing advanced medical technologies. The lack of access to advanced technology means people are more likely to suffer serious side effects from highly treatable illnesses and injuries.

Socioeconomic Factors

People in rural areas tend to have lower incomes. In 2019, the United States Department of Agriculture Economic reported that 15.4% of people in rural communities lived below the federal poverty line. Without being able to pay for their basic needs, these people are less likely to have health insurance coverage, and they may avoid seeking medical attention when they need it to avoid a bill.

Furthermore, access to proper health education may be less readily available to residents in these areas. This makes them less likely to recognize early warning signs of diseases like cancer or heart disease.

Accessing healthy food can also be challenging for people who live below the poverty line. Eating lower-cost processed foods and missing fruits and vegetables from their diet leads to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Prevalent Health Issues in Rural Florida

Unfortunately, health problems are far more common in rural Florida than urban parts of the state. People in rural areas are more likely to suffer from chronic health problems and mental health problems. Factors like income, employment opportunities, education, diet, and housing all play a role, which is why addressing the entire community’s well-being is important when addressing rural healthcare.

Chronic Diseases

According to News in Health, people in rural areas are more likely to be overweight, develop diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Factors like an unhealthy diet, smoking, alcohol consumption, and lack of physical exercise can all play a role. For some people in rural Florida, grocery stores may be far away, and they may not have the money to pay for routine trips. This forces them to rely on local convenience stores that do not offer the healthy foods they need.

Rural residents are less likely to get enough physical exercise without access to more roads and sidewalks. Limited access to entertainment can also make them more likely to spend time indoors on screens. Sitting more increases the risk of disease and contributes to obesity.

Mental Health

In many rural parts of America, mental health is not openly discussed. People are never taught about depression or anxiety, let alone mood disorders or trauma. They may have been raised being told that having certain emotions makes one “weak,” so they are less likely to seek help when they’re struggling. For those who recognize they need help, the affordability and lack of access to therapists and mental health resources make it hard to improve. This can lead to symptoms worsening and reaching a point that they impact a person’s ability to work and function in everyday life.

Infectious Diseases

Disease prevention and control can be harder in rural communities. Skepticism about vaccines, geographic isolation, limited healthcare staff, and closer proximity to wildlife can all lead to a higher risk of disease outbreaks among rural areas.

Substance Abuse

With less access to addiction treatment and support groups, rural substance abuse is a crisis. Alcohol and marijuana are the most commonly misused substances, followed by stimulants, opioids, and cocaine. Crime rates also increase with substance abuse, and the ripple effect this can have on families and communities is devastating.

Children raised in homes with substance abuse are more likely to misuse substances themselves.

Maternal and Child Health

For expectant mothers, lack of healthcare can put them and their babies at risk. They may be more likely to skip routine check-ups, not receive treatment for conditions like gestational diabetes, and be at a higher risk of labor and delivery complications. For parents, finding a pediatrician who is in their area can also be a struggle. This means children are less likely to receive routine check-ups, have developmental delays diagnosed properly, and not receive treatment for illness and injury as quickly as they need it.

Injury-Related Health Issues

With response times for emergency services longer in rural communities, getting injured can be life-threatening even when the injury is treatable. A patient in an urban area can wait under 15 minutes for care. Someone in a rural community may have to wait 30 minutes to over an hour for help to arrive.

Addressing Health Disparities

What can be done to help people in rural areas access healthcare? There are several factors that play a large role in helping Florida rural residents get the quality care they deserve.

Importance of Health Insurance

The most important thing to know is that health insurance saves thousands of dollars when people need care. Although you still have to pay out-of-pocket for services, the deductible and out-of-pocket maximum offers protection and cost-savings. Live Health offers health insurance policies to residents throughout Florida.

Telehealth Opportunities

Telehealth is the key to unlocking on-demand healthcare in rural areas. Rather than having to drive hours to reach a doctor, people can log onto a computer or use their phones to meet with physicians virtually.

In addition to offering medical advice, telehealth services can provide diagnoses, prescriptions, and remote monitoring for chronic health conditions.

Community Health Initiatives

Community health initiatives help educate people about health risks and provide non-medical support to improve well-being. Examples include substance abuse support groups, addiction treatment, awareness programs about the dangers of smoking, group exercise programs, injury prevention campaigns, and educational programs for parenting, childcare, and nutrition.


Rural communities pose unique health risks that make accessing the right care difficult. However, residents in these areas still need to be proactive about health coverage and explore their options. When it comes to getting care, telehealth presents a promising solution that is not only more affordable but also more accessible to people who would otherwise be unable to see a doctor.

Scroll to Top