Telehealth in remote and rural areas is important to understand as that is the main purpose of introducing it in the first place. Approximately one in five people or about 62 million Americans live in rural areas, while only 9% of the physicians practice in these settings. Healthcare systems today have shifted their focus to value-based care, a large component of which is adherence and ongoing medical reconciliation.
Telehealth is improving health care in rural areas
Telemedicine has an increasingly interesting application in rural areas where access to care is a significant challenge, in addition to its far-reaching benefits in many sectors of healthcare. There are critical benefits of telemedicine in rural areas. In addressing a variety of challenges faced by rural residents, telemedicine is particularly useful. Here are a few factors:
- Lack of access
- Social determinants of health
- Medication adherence
In rural areas, the number of patients to primary care physicians is approximately 40 physicians per 100,000 people. Organizations can significantly improve outcomes by improving access to telemedicine and telehealth programs. By helping rural residents save money on travel expenses, telemedicine also addresses economic stability. Telemedicine also helps providers overcome geographical-location related barriers. Rural residents may not be willing to travel long distances regularly for brief check-ins, even though it is critical to monitor patients who are on medication. Telemedicine programs enable quick check-ins that can enhance medical reconciliation, greatly improve medication adherence, and prevent medication errors.
Telehealth and patient-doctor relationships in rural and remote communities
Telehealth strengthens overall patient engagement and overcomes the challenges that patients face in areas with sparse public transportation. Several specific rural populations, like those with disabilities, residents suffering from substance use disorders or mental health conditions can benefit from telepsychiatry and telehealth programs. Patients can now have virtual consultations with providers for urgent care needs without driving to urgent care, making an appointment, or spending time in the emergency department. By enabling in-home monitoring, outsourced diagnostic analysis, direct-to-consumer telemedicine, and remote specialist consultations, telemedicine services help providers meet the needs of rural residents. The University of Virginia, for example, uses telemedicine in the rural areas of its state to extend specialty care in fields such as behavioral health, obstetrics, oncology, diabetes, and stroke. The health system was able to increase its patient satisfaction in rural areas by 30% with the help of this technology.
Telemedicine in a rural community hospital for remote wound care consultations
Telemedicine consultations of any kind leave more room in the physician’s schedule to accommodate more patient appointments who do require in-person care, saving time for both the patient and the doctor. About an annual number of 250,000 children are provided care at the Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska. Nebraska has a severe shortage of psychiatrists, with only around 156 practicing psychiatrists for a population of roughly 1.9 million people (84% of which are already practicing in the metropolitan cities, leaving only 25 psychiatrists to cover the rest of the state). Children’s Omaha implemented pediatric psychiatry telehealth throughout the rural areas of the state to address this issue. They conducted more than 600 video visits, reduced physician drive-time by about 26 hours a week, and reduced no-show rates by about 50%; within a year of launching its telepsychiatry program.
Barriers to telehealth in rural areas
One of the most significant barriers for expanding telemedicine in rural areas is the lack of broadband infrastructure necessary for video consultations in in-home monitoring, along with additional challenges related to technical training and equipment. According to the latest data, about 21.3 million Americans lack access to broadband services and unfortunately, an unreliable broadband connection often leads to unreliable data. Simplifying the federal services that support the expansion of broadband is one solution. The industry will not fully reap the benefits of telemedicine in rural areas- according to expert opinion- until connectivity challenges are resolved. Resolving these challenges would result in lower costs and high-quality care.
Hence, telehealth in remote and rural areas has its own advantages and barriers. A proper implementation will help us to achieve the goal of reaching maximum individuals in remote areas.