Long Trips to See Brain Doctors: A Big Hurdle for Seniors on Medicare

Long Trips to Neurologists: A Barrier for Many on Medicare

If you had to travel 50 miles just to see a doctor, would you? Well, a new study shows that nearly one in five people on Medicare, the healthcare program for seniors, have to do just that when they need to visit a neurologist. Neurologists are doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating diseases of the brain and nervous system. These diseases can range from brain cancer to multiple sclerosis.

The Travel Burden

The study found that people who needed special care for conditions like brain cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and multiple sclerosis (MS) were the ones who traveled the farthest. Some people traveled long distances to see a neurologist, while others lived closer and didn’t have to go very far. On average, those who traveled long distances went about 81 miles, which could take up to an hour and a half in the car. In contrast, those who didn’t have to travel far only went about 13 miles, taking around 22 minutes.

Why So Far?

There were a few reasons why people had to travel long distances. One big reason was that they lived in areas with fewer neurologists. Imagine if there were only 10 neurologists for every 100,000 people in your area, but in another place, there were 50 neurologists for every 100,000 people. You’d have to travel a lot farther to see a neurologist if you were in the first place.

Living in rural areas was another reason. People in rural areas often had to travel longer distances than those who lived in cities.

The Importance of Follow-Up Visits

Seeing a neurologist is often just the first step. Many people need to come back for follow-up visits to make sure they’re getting the right care. But the study found that people who traveled long distances were less likely to come back for follow-up visits compared to those who didn’t have to travel as far.

What Can Be Done?

The study suggests that policymakers, the people who make rules about healthcare, should think of ways to make it easier for people to see neurologists, especially in areas where there aren’t many neurologists and in rural communities. One idea is using telemedicine, which lets you see a doctor through a computer or phone, so you don’t have to travel long distances.

Future studies will look at how telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic affected travel times to doctors.

Why It Matters

Imagine you had a medical condition that required a specialist, like a neurologist. But the nearest one was really far away. That would make it tough to get the care you needed. This study shows that many people on Medicare face this problem, and finding a solution could help them get better care.

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