Rural Health Care in Oregon
Popular culture presents a variety of mythic frontier doctors, like Doc Baker
from the 1970s television series Little House on the Prairie,
galloping across the prairie to save young Billy or help Ma deliver a
baby at the Nelson farm. In many ways, the myth was real. Most country
doctors lived in town and traveled widely to visit sick patients on their
homesteads. The doctor was often a town's best-educated citizen: Urling
C. Coe, for example, arrived in Bend in 1905 and within 13 years became
a prominent physician who helped to found the town's first hospital, bank
organizer and president, real estate dealer, and mayor.
Like their predecessors, today's country doctors do things a little differently, but they also defy the stereotypes. They are some of the finest health care providers in the state and still tend to practice a sort of whole-person care rarely seen in urban medicine. Most studied medicine in a big city — probably even grew up in one — and have chosen a rural practice because they appreciate the lifestyle and community. In many cases, the doc might not be an actual "doctor," but a skilled professional with different credentials. And although most patients rely on insurance to cover health care costs, a rural doctor might still be persuaded accept a payment of a cord of firewood or a side of beef.
Despite the skill and dedication of country doctors, rural communities are especially hard hit by the problems facing the health care system. Patients often have to travel long distances to services, doctors are difficult to recruit and keep in rural communities and rural populations are rapidly becoming poorer and older, making it more difficult and expensive to provide quality care.
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