Context: Many rural elders experience limited access to health care. The majority of what we know about this issue has been based upon quantitative studies, yet qualitative studies might offer additional insight into individual perceptions of health care access.
Purpose: To examine what barriers rural elders report when accessing needed health care, including how they cope with the high cost of prescription medication.
Methods: During Spring 2001, thirteen 90-minute focus groups were conducted in 6 rural West Virginia communities. A total of 101 participants, aged 60 years and older, were asked several culminating questions about their perceptions of health care access.
Findings: Five categories of barriers to health care emerged from the discussions: transportation difficulties, limited health care supply, lack of quality health care, social isolation, and financial constraints. In addition, 6 diverse coping strategies for dealing with the cost of prescription medication were discussed. They included: reducing dosage or doing without, limiting other expenses, relying on family assistance, supplementing with alternative medicine, shopping around for cheapest prices, and using the Veteran's Administration.
Conclusions: Overall, rural older adults encounter various barriers to accessing needed health care. Qualitative methodology allows rural elders to have a voice to expound on their experiences. Research can contribute valuable information to shape policy by providing a forum where older adults can express their concerns about the current health care delivery system.