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Original Research

Qualitative needs assessment: healthcare experiences of underserved populations in Montgomery County, Virginia, USA

Submitted: 20 May 2011
Revised: 12 April 2012
Published: 17 July 2012

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Author(s) : Pieh-Holder KL, Callahan C, Young P.

Citation: Pieh-Holder KL, Callahan C, Young P.  Qualitative needs assessment: healthcare experiences of underserved populations in Montgomery County, Virginia, USA. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2012; 12: 1816. Available: (Accessed 23 October 2017)


Introduction:  Portions of Montgomery County, Virginia, are designated a Medically Underserved Area with a large portion of this population experiencing limited access to healthcare services. In September 2008, the Federal Bureau of Primary Care awarded the authors a planning grant to assess community need in Montgomery County and to develop a strategic plan to establish a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) to best meet these needs. An FQHC is a federally funded clinic mandated to provide medical, dental and mental health services to underserved communities. As part of the planning process, the decision was made to include qualitative data to better understand the needs of underserved residents in the community. Descriptive studies of target populations can provide further insight into community priorities for effective health improvement and planning. The objective of the study was to investigate and describe the perceptions, beliefs and practices that impact healthcare utilization among underserved populations in Montgomery County, Virginia. This study was conducted as part of a comprehensive community assessment to determine the feasibility of developing a FQHC.
Methods:  Community focus groups were conducted with target populations which were representative of the community. A thematic analysis of the transcribed field notes and group interviews was conducted. Qualitative data analysis was performed using the Analysis Software for Word-Based Records (AnSWR) developed by the Centers for Disease Control.
Results:  Three important categories of beliefs which may impact healthcare utilization emerged from the discussions: (1) cultural health perceptions; (2) perceived barriers to care; and (3) coping strategies. Participants expressed a right to access quality care, preferred to spend money on basic living expenses rather than healthcare services; frequently neglected seeking care for adults while rarely neglecting to seek care for their children; valued but infrequently utilized preventative care; and had a lack of confidence in the care that was provided. Perceived barriers to healthcare services reported by participants included a lack of access to affordable care; complexities of health insurance and payer status; limited hours of clinic operation; lack of transportation and geographic distance; and the complexity of navigating the healthcare system. Finally, participants reported using various coping strategies to overcome barriers to accessing healthcare services. These strategies included delaying treatment and self-care; seeking financial and transportation assistance; and using community resources to navigate the system.
Conclusion:  Establishing care that is culturally relevant, targets perceived barriers and incorporates and enhances coping strategies is needed to increase accessibility and utilization of preventative and comprehensive healthcare services. The findings from this study will assist in creating a strategic plan for a FQHC that capitalizes on community strengths while addressing the challenges and complex needs of the community.

Key words: Appalachian region, community health centers, health service needs and demand, healthcare disparities, medically underserved area, qualitative research.

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