Reporting on health care access challenges in Oklahoma

Published on
July 20, 2011

Earlier this year, the New England Journal of Medicine named Oklahoma as the state that will have the worst access to health care when Medicaid expands in 2014.

As the health reporter for the Tulsa World, I've seen many of the obstacles facing Oklahomans trying to receive treatment or preventive services. They face difficulties in finding transportation and locating nearby specialists. Not enough physicians are practicing here and high numbers are uninsured.

The series I am reporting with the help of the National Health Fellowship will take an in-depth look at these challenges, how they affect the average Oklahoman and what can be done to help create more access to health care in the state.

Using mapping programs and data from the state licensing board, I have looked at the geographic disparities of physicians in general and in specialties like cardiology and oncology. Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and state and county health departments show how lack of access has affected health outcomes in the state. Countless surveys and studies rank Oklahoma among the worst states for heart disease, smoking rates, obesity and diabetes.

The personal stories illustrate the dire consequences of poor health combined with a lack of access to care. One woman I spoke to spent hours taking the bus to a free clinic every week for checkups during her pregnancy. One doctor in a rural setting said he has seen a lot of people with cancer who never received treatment or preventive care because it simply wasn't available.

The series will examine the physician shortage in Oklahoma, the growing role of mid-level practitioners such as nurses and physician assistants, transportation issues in urban and rural areas, geographical disparities in access to care and the possible solutions to these problems, like growing technology and federal incentives for medical students.