When put together, just over 27% of rural hospital closures during the previous 10 years were in these two years alone
Although chiropractic offers many basic wellness benefits, some people only pursue care when a need arises – a specific need. They develop pain in their back or neck and want it to go away. But functional medicine chiropractors can address a great many more needs to patients, and are in greater demand, with new data showing that patients in rural areas of the U.S. are losing access to hospitals at an alarming rate due to financial issues causing rural hospital closures.
Rural hospital closures in record numbers
One hundred thirty-six rural hospitals closed between 2010-21 according to a report issued by the American Hospital Association (AHA), with just over half being independent organizations. Of these closures, 19 occurred in 2020 — setting a record for the highest number of closures in a one-year time span within the past decade.
Hospital closures in 2019 were the second highest at 18. When put together, just over 27% of rural hospital closures during the previous 10 years were in these two years alone. The AHA cites several reasons behind this type of hospital shutting down, one of which was reduced financial performance related to the COVID pandemic.
Other explanations provided include:
- low reimbursement due to having a higher number of patients who are uninsured or on government programs such as Medicaid and Medicare
- major staffing shortage issues, forcing the hospitals to contract services at a higher rate
- lower patient volume, especially if a larger hospital is nearby
- regulatory requirements that drive organizational expenses higher while also reducing the facility’s flexibility
Chiropractic providers can help close the health care gap
When rural hospitals shut down, chiropractic providers can help close the gap in health care services. This enables area residents to continue to receive quality care, whether preventative or treatment based.
One way to help streamline this process is to establish relationships with hospital personnel. Express interest in helping their patients avoid an interruption in care. This may require educating hospital officials as to the benefits you can provide and the type of patients you specialize in treating.
Another option is to offer the local community free seminars and webinars, educating potential patients about how you can address their healthcare needs. Let them know that you are committed to their wellness while taking the time to answer their questions about chiropractic in general or about how you may be able to help them specifically.
Increasing your service offerings via functional medicine
To serve this patient base more fully, you might also consider functional medicine training. The Institute for Functional Medicine explains that this is “a systems biology-based approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease.” This might involve identifying many different causes for one single condition, or it may require identifying one individual cause which can lead to many conditions.
It’s possible that a patient will present with one cause that can lead to many different conditions. An example presented by the institute is inflammation. As DCs know, when left untreated, inflammation opens the body to several illnesses and diseases, some of which include cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Addressing the root cause is important to also addressing these conditions.
Functional medicine encompasses the whole person. It looks at their genetic makeup, their environment — at work, home, and other places they frequent — and their lifestyle choices, considering how each contributes to health or to disease.
“Functional medicine is really addressing the whole body through a whole-body approach,” Deirdre Clark, DC, told the Elkin Tribune. “We do it through letting food be our medicine, and sometimes supplements. If you go to just see your family doctor, they may only focus on one thing and refer you out for special needs, whereas with functional medicine we actually look at your mental, emotional, spiritual and nutritional systems, so we evaluate what’s going on in your body beyond just normal lab values.”
Taking this approach with patients offers them the hope of resolving not just their symptoms, but also the root cause of their health issues. This provides long-term value, which is even more important in the case of local hospital closures if they have limited local health care options.