Volume XI | Issue 2 | Fall 2011
When people talk about rural health care, many still think of the old-fashioned “country doctor.”

Handheld computers, videos, telemedicine

Technology holds promise for changing populations

Our world is not the same as it was a half-century ago, and it’s hard to believe that, in another 50 years, our children will be saying the same thing. Here’s just a glimpse of the changes that have happened in key areas of rural lives, along with a prediction of what the future will hold.


When people talk about health care in rural areas, many still think of the old-fashioned “country doctor”—one who makes house calls, lives in the town he or she serves, and is active in community events. That kind of doctor rarely exists anymore. Today, rural residents may need to travel long distances to get the health care they need.

Technology is offering some hope for improving rural health care in the future as long as high-bandwidth connections are available. The Internet is already playing a big role in helping connect isolated health professionals with resources in larger cities. Handheld computers can provide prescription information and patient records from anywhere, including patients’ homes. And telemedicine holds great promise, allowing rural hospitals to video conference with specialists, transmit imaging results in real time and even enable surgeons to watch and advise colleagues as they perform operations.


Fifty years ago, Oregon boasted a population of 1.7 million mostly white citizens. Wow, have things changed. There are more than twice as many people living in Oregon today as in 1960. Siskiyou County, Calif., has increased from 33,000 in 1960 to 45,000 in 2010. In both states, population is rapidly becoming racially and ethnically diverse.

Two of the biggest demographic changes in rural Oregon have been the increasing age of residents and the increasing size of the Latino population. “The median age of rural residents went from about 32 in the 1980 to about 45 in 2010, which was well over the eight-year increase observed in urban Oregon,” says Lena Etuk, social demographer at Oregon State University. “The percentage of Latinos in rural Oregon increased from 3 percent in 1980 to 11 percent in 2010, which mirrored the growth in urban counties.

“Given the aging population and the increasingly Latino population in rural communities, there will have to be local solutions devised to ease the integration of Latinos into the dominant culture and to provide the necessary services for the older adult population,” Etuk says. “Failure to do so will reduce the size or simply lead to the stagnation of rural communities, as the elderly and Latinos alter their migration/living situations away from rural toward more urban communities.”  

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