Healing the Urban-Rural Divides in Healthcare with Telehealth



How telehealth ecosystem can enhance rural population health?

The healthcare industry is one of the earliest adopters of technological innovations, be it automation and robotics, or big data and analytics. Delivering effective and improved patient care always remains at top of medical professionals’ priority of care delivery. While the world’s population is growing, aging and grappling with chronic conditions like diabetes, heart failure, and lung disease, among others, this is creating a heightened demand of improved treatment.

This is why healthcare systems are now turning to telehealth solutions to keep monitor patients’ health, from anywhere, at any time. It can help supplement in-person visits to a medical practitioner, and harmonizes regular doctor visits, creating a more inclusive patient-centered care plan. One of the significant advantages of telehealth is it provides immediate access to care that otherwise would be complex to obtain.

In rural areas where communities lack the healthcare infrastructure, telehealth can be a constructive solution. Rural patients often need to drive hours to visit a healthcare center that is not always possible and even not possible to meet the doctor at any time. This is where this emerging healthcare solution comes into the scenario, creating an alternative way for patients and practitioners to remain in contact, any time.


Barriers to Telehealth in Rural Areas

Telehealth has the potential to assist healthcare systems, organizations, and medial personnel to expand access to and improve the quality of patient care, regardless of a patient’s location. But the lack of medical access, high-speed internet connectivity, and credentialing and licensing, are some major blockades to establishing, expanding, and sustaining telehealth initiatives in rural communities.

Interoperability, which involves the exchange of electronic health information, remains a significant challenge for many rural healthcare providers. In this way, some rural telehealth programs may face difficulties in ensuring secure and effective methods for providers from different systems to share information and access electronic health records (EHRs).

Moreover, lack of reimbursement also creates a key barrier to the use of telehealth services in rural areas. This is largely because each state within a country has its own rules and regulations regarding the types of services that can be reimbursed by Medicaid. This distinguished rules and regulations pose a major challenge to this technology. 


Why Telehealth is so important for Rural Population?

Telehealth typically establishes connections between rural health care providers and patients to services at a distant site. This allows patients to receive care in their communities while avoiding long travel times of visiting urban healthcare. Besides this, using this solution in rural areas can also improve monitoring, timeliness, and patient-doctor interaction.

According to a 2019 National Bureau of Economic Research study, with increasing rates of hospital closures can severely fracture patient access to care. Since 1990, almost 15 percent of hospitals in the United States have been closed. This growing closure of healthcare centers due to weakened hospital finances is making telehealth services a need of time to keep deliver patient care. 

While this situation may seem miserable, telehealth solution holds much promise for health care systems. It can drive volume and foster quality of care while reducing costs by lowering readmissions and redundant emergency department visits for rural communities. It can also help rural healthcare centers to serve rural patients at better costs and provide care on the time.