Access to Care in Rural Areas

Access to Care in Rural Areas

Data highlight

Oklahoma has 188 primary care HPSAs, most of which are nonmetro areas. The population of Oklahomans living in HPSAs exceeds 1.4 million. Rhode Island meets the needs of 72.1% of the HPSAs while Delaware meets 16.4%, however neither state has rural HSPAs. Oklahoma ranks 14 of 51 [1][2].


Percent of the residents in Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) whose primary care needs are met based on provider count

0 %
0 %



Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) are regions where there is a shortage of healthcare providers, making it challenging for residents to access essential medical services. These areas are identified based on factors such as population size and healthcare provider availability, highlighting the need for increased medical resources to address local health needs.

Why we care

Access to medical providers is key in maintaining one’s health. For Oklahomans in rural areas, the barriers to see a provider grow year over year. This plays a large role in their poorer health outcomes. 

It’s not uncommon for the nearest hospital to be 30 minutes away or more in parts of the state. While these figures reflect acute services like urgent and emergency care, primary care providers are in equally short supply. In nonmetro areas of Oklahoma, there are four primary care providers per 10,000 people. The density rises to seven per 10,000 in metropolitan areas [5].

It’s a problem that is getting worse. Rural Oklahoma is suffering the rapid attrition of healthcare access, a trend mirrored in many other sparsely-populated areas across the nation. Since 2005, nine rural hospitals have shuttered and 47% of those still open are at risk of closing [4].  

The COVID-19 pandemic is fairly illustrative. Rural Oklahomans make up 34% of the population and reported a 9.6% death rate compared to 8.8% in urban areas. Lack of and distance to advanced equipment like ventilators heavily hindered care capacity [3]. 

Regular access to a primary care provider is a positive indicator of health. Although not the singular reason, low access to care is a contributing factor to higher rates of death from heart disease, cancer, stroke, and lower respiratory disease [6]. State and federal funding for rural hospitals and clinics has increased recently, particularly starting during the COVID-19 pandemic. However due to restrictions built into the grants, healthcare centers have been reluctant to accept the funds [7]. 


Some urban areas are also designated as HPSAs. Since the designation is by healthcare worker needed, healthcare deserts in metro areas are also included in the reflected figures. Many of Oklahoma’s HPSAs are rural, but there are some in urbanized areas like North Tulsa.

What we can do:

This issue brief was written by Metriarch staff as part of our Data Lookbook.

Suggested citation
 Metriarch. “Access to Quality Care,” Data Lookbook (2024). URL:

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