oklahoma map greetings

oklahoma map greetings 1

Not long ago, we shouted out to Minnesota for having a terrific collection of health-care cost information online.

Today, we’re going to give a shoutout in a different direction, to a state that’s having a hard time with medical care.

It’s hard to imagine a more dispiriting list of statistics, offered here by Shannon Muchmore,  who wrote a three-part newspaper series for The Tulsa World about health-care limitations in the state  as part of the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, a program of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.

While we generally write about cost issues, and we generally prefer to do our own reporting when we can, I’m listing here a series of extremely disheartening passages from Muchmore’s articles.

These statistics speak  of the real cost of the health-care system: a lot of people in Oklahoma (and other places, too) can’t get quality medical treatment.

When Muchmore writes that ZIP codes with low life expectancy are ZIP codes with the fewest doctors, that means people die for lack of health care.

Here are some passages from her three-part series, just published in The World:

“There are 2.13 physicians for every 100 people in the state, according to the analysis. That number ranges from a low of 0.17 in Coal County to a high of 4.11 in Oklahoma County.

“Oklahoma has more than 200 Health Professional Shortage Areas, meaning they don’t meet the national standard of one physician for every 3,500 people. Those areas exist in 66 of the state’s 77 counties.

“The Tulsa ZIP codes with the lowest life expectancy are also the ZIP codes with the fewest doctors. These are 74126, 74106, 74116 and 74127. South Tulsa, midtown and surrounding suburbs boast many

medical practices, but north and west Tulsa have far fewer.

“The state is facing a severe shortage of doctors as the population ages. Adding to that, as many as 180,000 people are poised to receive insurance when provisions of federal health-care reform kick in 2 1/2 years from now.

“Rural areas and already underserved urban areas will be particularly hard hit, with little access to specialists or doctors in general and a lack of public transportation options.

“An article in the February 2011 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine ranked Oklahoma as the most access-challenged state in terms of health care. The high number of currently uninsured residents and the relatively low number of primary-care providers in the state will present a significant challenge for patients seeking care, health policy experts said.

“In Oklahoma, 1 in 4 doctors is older than 60, and their average age is 54. Many will be retiring soon. …

“The state is not well-positioned to handle a further deterioration in its health-care system. Oklahoma consistently ranks among the worst states for obesity, diabetes, smoking, heart disease and overall health. It has the least improvement in the country in age-adjusted death rate since 1990.

“There are no cardiologists in virtually the entire northwest quadrant of Oklahoma. …

“Coal County has only one physician to care for its population of 6,000. …

“Specialists, including cardiologists and oncologists, are clustered in metropolitan areas of Oklahoma but are scarce or nonexistent in rural areas of the state, according to a Tulsa World analysis. The World reviewed data from the Oklahoma Medical Board of Licensure and Supervision and the Oklahoma State Board of Osteopathic Examiners.

“This barrier to access for people in less populated areas of the state often causes a delay in treatment or lack of preventive health services, health experts said.

“Only 12 counties have an oncologist, a doctor who treats cancer patients. They are heavily concentrated in central and northeastern parts of the state.

“Oklahoma has 36 counties with fewer than five family practice doctors, and at least four counties have none. Once again, the northwest and southeast sections of the state are poorly represented.’

It’s hard to think of anything to say after this, except that the rest of the series is terrific.

Jeanne Pinder

Jeanne Pinder  is the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. She worked at The New York Times for almost 25 years as a reporter, editor and human resources executive, then volunteered for a buyout and founded...