Healthcare Brew, March 15, 2023, by Maia Anderson

In some parts of the US, it seems no matter where you look, you can find a Walgreens, CVS, or Rite Aid. But many neighborhoods still lack convenient access to a pharmacy.

These areas are called “pharmacy deserts,” but unlike actual deserts, they’re all over the US. 

There are multiple ways to define a pharmacy desert, according to Dima Qato, a senior fellow at USC’s Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics. Her team identifies pharmacy deserts using metrics like location, economic status, and vehicle ownership. 

If most people in an urban neighborhood live more than a mile away from the nearest pharmacy, it’s a desert. If that neighborhood is low income and few households own a car, then that threshold drops to half a mile, said Qato.

A pharmacy desert in the suburbs occurs when most people live more than two miles away from the nearest pharmacy, or a half mile if most residents don’t own a car, said Qato. And a pharmacy desert in a rural area constitutes people living farther than 10 miles from the nearest pharmacy.

When it comes to the financials behind pharmacy closures, “it may seem complicated, but actually isn’t,” said Qato.

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