In making this determination, it is important to consider two unique instances in which one may find distinctions of this concept. The first is how the concept has been defined by organizations, in an applied sense.
One such example is The Department of Health and Human Services’ definition that describes the term as “…individuals who have experienced health disparities, or receive fewer health care services, encounter barriers to accessing primary health care services (e.g., economic, cultural, and/or linguistic), have a lack of familiarity with the health care delivery system, [and who] face a shortage of readily available providers.
Another example is The Health Resources Services Administration, who provides a more nuanced definition that focuses specifically on medical Care. The HAS describes Medically Underserved Areas (MUAs) and Medically Underserved Populations (MUPs) as areas that “identify geographic areas and populations with a lack of access to primary care services. MUAs have a shortage of primary care health services for residents within a geographic area such as a whole county; a group of neighboring counties; a group of urban census tracts; or a group of county or civil divisions.
MUPs are specific sub-groups of people living in a defined geographic area with a shortage of primary care health services. These groups may face economic, cultural, or linguistic barriers to health care: homeless, low-income, Medicaid-eligible, Native American, Migrant farmworkers.”
If we look to evidence-based, scholarly literature for a definition of a Medically Underserved Area, Morelli (2017), anchored his research to the Health Service Administration’s operationalized definition of a Medically Underserved Area and defined it as follows:
Medically underserved areas (MUAs) and medically underserved populations (MUPs) are determined by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) by measuring 4 variables: (1) ratio of primary care physicians (PCPs) per 1000 population, (2) infant mortality rate, (3) percentage of the population below the poverty level, and (4) percentage of the population age 65 or over.” (Morelli, 2017, p. 1)