A May 2017 Wall Street Journal analysis highlights the plight of rural America: People there who are sick are getting sicker because health systems are struggling to deliver care in rural areas. The challenges are multifactorial, but a key driver is the availability of providers. Only 10 percent of physicians serve rural populations, and the number of specialists per capita is a third of the number that practice in urban areas. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) considers the per capita physician shortage to be an important health care access problem. In an effort to improve access to care, CMS has created preferential payment schedules including reimbursement for telemedicine services for patients located in geographic health professional shortage areas (HPSAs).
But while geography is an important aspect of access to health care, it fails to accurately capture the relationship between supply (providers) and demand (patients) within an area. We......