Rural residents spending $2,200 in travel per medical condition: survey

By Fran Yanor / Legislative Reporter
Rural B.C. residents who travelled outside their community for medical care paid an average of $2,200 in out-of-pocket expenses for visits related to a single health condition between 2017 and 2020, according to a survey by UBC’s Centre for Rural Health Research.

“When I actually saw the number, that blew me away,” said the Centre’s co-director and UBC associate professor Dr. Jude Kornelsen. “That’s a lot of money.”

Whereas people living in urban centres can reasonably access non-urgent care such as specialists’ consultations and diagnostic testing, those living in rural areas often need to travel long distances to receive similar care, according to the Out-of-Pocket Costs for Rural ResidentsWhen Traveling for Health Care report.

“The disproportionate impact of being rural and trying to access specialist services is huge,” said Kornelsen. “Most people who are urban-dwelling don’t realize this.”

The survey findings show the severity of a problem everyone knew existed, said Ed Staples, president of the BC Rural Health Network, a cross section of rural community organizations advocating for health care policy improvements.

“What we didn’t have was the evidence, the facts, the data, to support what we already knew.”

For some people it’s an inconvenience, Staples said. “But on the other end of the spectrum, people are actually not getting the care that they need because they can’t afford it. And that’s wrong.”

Next Steps
The next step is to use this document as a starting point, said Staples. “It needs to be the beginning of discussion so that we come up with solutions.”

Kornelsen envisions pulling together a multi-disciplinary team to figure out how to correct the situation.

“We have to figure out where the locus of change is,” said Kornelsen, “because right now we don’t know which policy needs to change.”
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