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Annu Rev Public Health. 2000;21:639-57.

The changing nature of rural health care.

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  • 1Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, School of Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 27599-7590, USA.


The rural health care system has changed dramatically over the past decade because of a general transformation of health care financing, the introduction of new technologies, and the clustering of health services into systems and networks. Despite these changes, resources for rural health systems remain relatively insufficient. Many rural communities continue to experience shortages of physicians, and the proportion of rural hospitals under financial stress is much greater than that of urban hospitals. The health care conditions of selected rural areas compare unfavorably with the rest of the nation. The market and governmental policies have attempted to address some of these disparities by encouraging network development and telemedicine and by changing the rules for Medicare payments to providers. The public health infrastructure in rural America is not well understood but is potentially the most fragile aspect of the rural health care continuum.

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