The Importance of Rural Healthcare Accessibility

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Published:  February 16, 2024

As you age, paying close attention to your health and wellness becomes even more important. While, in the past, you may have opted for a “set it and forget it” approach, with age comes the need to focus more actively on maintaining and monitoring your health. 

When older adults track their wellness, it allows you to stay ahead of any issues that crop up, and to stop them from snowballing into larger concerns. It also helps you and your primary care provider establish your health and wellness baselines—so you know what’s normal for you. 

You may be resistant to adding more regular visits to the doctor to your routine, but this is a key way folks stay well as they age. Having a close relationship with your doctor means they can help you recognize and face any issues that arise, while also working with you to maintain your optimal health and wellness as you age. 

But what if where you live poses a challenge to this goal? 

Folks who reside in rural areas often face obstacles when it comes to accessing quality healthcare options. 

In Western North Carolina, many beautiful mountain communities dot the scenic landscape. These dynamic communities are home to wonderful folks—some who’ve been born and raised in this area and others who’ve discovered it and decided to make it their home. 

WNC’s rural communities have so much to offer—from tight-knit social fabric to natural beauty—but what they often lack is easy access to quality health and wellness services. 

For those who are active and mobile, this can present a hassle but not a big problem. 

But, for seniors, who may struggle to get around or may not be able to drive as they once used to—lack of access to healthcare services can present a real issue.  

This is especially true because, as we mentioned—seniors need regular access to healthcare and medical services more than any other demographic. 

At Hopscotch Primary Care, we recognized the issues rural seniors face in WNC around proximity and access to quality healthcare services and providers. 

And we wanted to do something about it.

Because we believe seniors like you have earned the right to live where you love, without sacrificing your ability to get great healthcare and medical services. 

That’s why we created a model of primary care, designed specifically to serve the unique needs of seniors. 

We wanted to provide top quality primary care that’s close to home. 

Even as we grow and expand, we keep this core mission at the heart of everything we offer the WNC communities we’re honored to serve. 

Just ask our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Rath Chau. Dr. Chau was instrumental in developing and implementing our mission and values to deliver top-quality healthcare to older adults in WNC. 

We recently connected with Dr. Chau, who was willing to share his thoughts about the importance of providing primary care options to rural communities, like those in Western NC. 

Dr. Chau has a very unique perspective that fuels his desire to provide top-quality healthcare options to vulnerable rural communities, in particular. 

His Cambodian family fled to America as refugees at the end of the Vietnam War. His clear memories of this and of growing up extremely poor as the eldest of six children in the Chicago area and developing a keen appreciation for having basic necessities like warm clothes, food, and a roof over his head shaped his desire to make a positive difference in the lives of others and the world. 

After attending Northwestern for engineering, this drive eventually led him to medical school, where he turned his talents toward health and medicine. After completing his medical residency at the University of Florida, he returned to Chicago to be with his family. 

He initially focused on family medicine “to learn everything I could about general patient care.” But his drive to innovate and build things remained strong. He found medical startups were an ideal way to nurture this need, while ushering new medical models into the future and offering patients more options when it came to assessing quality healthcare services. 

He became skilled at building and supporting the work of value-based care startups, offering his expertise as a Medical Director at various levels including Senior Medical Director and Regional Medical Director in addition to Clinic Medical Director to companies like Oak Street Health. 

“I know the value-based care model inside and out—as much as you can without actually having an MBA,” he explained, adding “I do have a Masters in Public Health in addition to my MD, because population health and public health are also great loves of mine.”

This is what eventually led Dr. Chau to connect with the CEO of Hopscotch Primary Care—and it was a match that was made to be. 

“I originally started with Hopscotch in an advisor/consultant role and then I saw the great fit and potential and my love of building a program and teaching new providers,” he explained. 

He quickly realized the unique potential Hopscotch had to deliver value-based care to traditionally underserved communities and he decided to deepen his commitment by taking on the role of Chief Medical Officer. 

“In this role,” he clarified, “I’m in charge of building out the care model. I’m also in charge of the medical director leadership cohort, in addition to the providers,” adding “I’m also responsible for clinical programs, so I set up the supports the clinics need in order to take care of the patients. And also, population health—the data portion of it and some of the general programs as well. That’s my domain.” 

In short—he’s a busy guy. But he clearly likes it that way. 

Regarding his twin passions of medicine and public health, Dr. Chau continued: “I want to do not just what’s right for the person in front of me, but also for the broader community. That’s where my public health experience comes in.” 

In his position as Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Chau is able to offer his expertise and insight to guide and shape the quality, comprehensive care that Hopscotch is committed to providing to rural communities in WNC. 

“What we’re trying to do is influence the decision-making of the patients outside of the visit with their provider,” he explained, “Because most of their health decisions are made in the day-to-day when we’re not physically present to support them. So, we want to educate our patients and give them a health plan that they can feel comfortable with and adhere to. It’s really about empowering our patients and helping them to maintain quality of life,” he concluded, adding, “It’s about building relationships in the long-term.” 

We were happy to hear Dr. Chau’s perspective on the importance of rural healthcare accessibility. We asked him several specific questions on this topic, which he answered thoroughly and with keen insight. 

Dr. Rath Chau on the importance of rural healthcare options for seniors 

We asked and Dr. Chau didn’t hold back! Read on to learn his perspective on the vital importance of expanding healthcare access to rural seniors in need. 


Thanks so much for carving out some time to connect with us! We’d love to start by asking you why you feel rural communities are at risk for poorer health and wellness outcomes? Why are rural seniors at particular risk? 

Dr. Chau: 

It’s mostly an access issue. There’s inherently a distance disparity. If you’re out in the middle of the countryside and your nearest specialist is hours away, then that’s a barrier to care. 

There are also primary care access issues. Right now, there’s a nationwide primary care shortage in rural communities when it comes to physicians. 

In addition, specialist care needs to have the volume in order to concentrate services in rural areas. That can lead patients to delay the care they need from a specialty standpoint. Particularly for seniors, this can cause serious issues. 


Why are rural communities traditionally underserved when it comes to health and medical care? 

Dr. Chau: 

Rural hospitals are under great pressure. They’re very susceptible to the inability to aggregate enough patients to stay in business. And that exacerbates the issues even further if rural hospitals go out of business. 

So, Hopscotch is trying to help by providing upstream services for the rural communities we serve, meaning that, if we can catch issues early enough, a person may not need the hospital. 

Obviously, we’re not an ER, but we can take care of some of the walk-in stuff, like treating UTIs or if you have Covid sniffles, we can deal with that. So, those are some of the ways we’re trying to fill in the gaps in the rural communities we serve. 


How is Hopscotch Primary Care working to change rural healthcare dynamics? Why is this important? 

Dr. Chau: 

We’re trying to help with all the access issues as much as we can, and to support things that aren’t traditionally encompassed within a primary care setting. 

So, for instance, we have the ability to get specialty care expertise. We have over 140 plus different subspecialty access domains. It works like an e-consult, where one of our providers has a question and can connect with a specialist for insight and guidance. 

For example, a provider may wonder if it’s worth it for a patient to travel hours to go to a specialist. They can connect with the specialist and share the patient’s background, current medications, and course of treatment and ask what else can be done to best support them.

Oftentimes, they can get that response and information back within a few hours and it’ll save time and promote better clinical decision making. 

Many times, we get info through this system that can actually save our patients a trip to see a specialist, as well as a copay, while keeping their care centralized within Hopscotch. For seniors, saving time, energy, and money is especially important. 


How did Hopscotch Primary Care develop their unique care mission? 

Dr. Chau:

This is one of the things that’s really invigorating for me about Hopscotch and my work with them. Given my own experience and background, I’ve seen how well our care model works in other populations who are vulnerable and who need it. 

No one’s really offering this care model in rural medicine and for seniors. 

The senior population in rural areas is growing. If you take a close look at the landscape in rural medicine, because of the inability to concentrate enough volume, many other care models are enabler models, which means they’re not all-encompassing but instead pick and choose what they feel would be most helpful. 

But Hopscotch takes a different approach, where we try to put as much support into our healthcare ecosystem as possible. 

It is a big challenge, and no one else is really taking it on. It’s more costly, but we feel it’s well worth the effort in order to help our communities. Because the demand definitely exists. 


What are you most proud of so far in Hopscotch’s mission to deliver quality, accessible healthcare to rural communities in WNC? 

Dr. Chau: 

I think the response from the community has been great. We’ve had a lot of evidence written from our patients that say how different the care is—the time we take and the attention they get—and there’s word of mouth where we’re getting new patient requests. There’s so much demand but it’s a good problem to have. 

I’m proud that we’re different and that we strive for excellence. Our quality measures are also very good. It’s evidence that our model really works. 


What message do you want to give to seniors searching for quality healthcare in WNC? 

Dr. Chau: 

I would say to seek out care that meets your needs, is comprehensive, works hand in hand with your thoughts and plans, and helps you achieve the outcomes you want. 

I’d also encourage people to vet wherever they decide to go—through word of mouth or checking online. Make sure that you connect yourself with a care delivery clinic or network that is aligned with what you want and need. Because, at the end of the day, this is your health. 

You’ve got to be able to imagine—can you achieve the health status you want with this particular doctor or clinic? Are they going to listen to you? Be prepared to take an active role in your health. 


What’s your hope for the future of rural healthcare in the region and country? And how do you envision Hopscotch’s role in it? 

Dr. Chau: 

My hope is that, from a rural healthcare viewpoint, we find a care model that is able to deliver upon the promises from an outcome standpoint that were achieved in the urban setting, and to do so consistently. 

If you look at some of the other players—people who have been able to achieve a 40-50% reduction in unnecessary ER visits and hospitalizations—that’s the type of excellence that we’re trying to achieve. This is what our rural communities need, as well. And we need to do it sustainably. So that’s something we’re focused on, because right now there is a lack of physicians and a lack of high-quality providers in rural locations. Hopscotch is focused on changing that dynamic. 

With Hopscotch, we have the infrastructure to attract and keep talent. We have training and support services, and a care model that helps our providers to achieve a work/life balance, while also achieving the needs of our patients. 

It was wonderful getting to connect with Dr. Chau and hearing his thoughts on the vital importance of providing quality primary care options to seniors in rural areas. Dr. Chau’s energy and enthusiasm for medicine and public health were readily apparent, and we’re glad to have him on our Hopscotch Primary Care team! 

If you’re in need of quality healthcare and call rural WNC your home—Hopscotch is here for you! We’re on a mission to transform the healthcare landscape for rural seniors in need. Because you deserve to live in a place you love and have easy access to the care you need to thrive. We pledge to continue innovating our care model to best serve your needs. 

We love getting to know you and learning how we can help you achieve your health and wellness goals. Find your nearest Hopscotch Primary Care location and reach out today to get started!