Alberta in Need of More Resources for Rural Residents with Osteoarthritis
July 11, 2022 (Vancouver) – New research reveals Albertans who have osteoarthritis and live in rural parts of the province have limited access to the care they need to manage their disease, symptoms and pain.
Researchers specifically examined spatial access to three care providers (general practitioner, orthopedic surgeon and physiotherapist) to identify gaps in care needed for managing osteoarthritis.
“We found that distance and geographical isolation are significant barriers to accessing health care providers when it comes to osteoarthritis, especially for those living in rural and remote areas,” said Dr. Xiaoxiao Liu, an Arthritis Research Canada trainee and the study’s lead researcher. “Without access to early treatment and pain management, patients are at risk for increased disease severity and reduced quality of life.”
The study revealed rural Albertans had the shortest travel time to reach general practitioners, however; they also face the longest travel times to see physiotherapists and orthopedic surgeons. In fact, the median travel time to see an orthopedic surgeon is 26 times higher in rural/remote areas than urban areas. And the median travel time for rural residents to see a physiotherapist is five times higher than in urban areas.
Osteoarthritis affects 1 in 8 Canadians and causes debilitating pain and disability. That number is expected to jump to 1 in 4 by 2040. As there is no known cure, early treatment and management is critical. And the need for care is even higher in rural communities where there are increased rates of osteoarthritis and other health conditions.
“Research like this is necessary to help identify and reduce health inequities for people living with osteoarthritis in rural areas,” explains Dr. Deborah A. Marshall, senior scientist at Arthritis Research Canada. “It also provides policy makers with important information for allocating health care resources in the province.”
More research is needed to assess other avenues for improving health equity. For example, whether virtual care may improve access to care for rural residents and the factors that may affect equitable access to virtual care.
To learn more about this research, please click here.
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