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Successfully treating patients in rural communities with the power of telehealth

June 30, 2023
Health IT Telemedicine
Dr. Kara Hartl
By Dr. Kara Hartl

It’s no secret that America’s rural healthcare systems are in crisis: 136 rural hospitals closed their doors between 2010 and 2021, and 453 more are at risk of closing. While increased governmental support during the height COVID-19, temporarily helped turn the tide, in most ways, the pandemic exacerbated the healthcare-related issues these communities face.

Fortunately, for every storm cloud, there is a silver lining. While COVID-19 was a raging storm, the widespread expansion and embrace of telehealth that it prompted is an enduring silver lining. A McKinsey & Company study showed physicians now see between 50 and 175 times more patients via telehealth than they did prior to pandemic’s onset. Furthermore, the National Rural Health Association (NRHA) notes that a majority of healthcare providers believe technology – and the low-cost, highly effective solutions it can provide – has an important role to play in meeting the unique obstacles to the much-needed care that rural communities face.
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Patients in rural communities often struggle to access healthcare, for reasons including limited transportation options, a shortage of healthcare providers, and a lack of specialized services. Top-notch telehealth care can help to bridge these gaps by enabling patients to receive care remotely, without requiring healthcare providers to travel to rural areas.

Successfully delivering high-quality healthcare via telehealth is not without its challenges; but when care providers follow five best practices, the outsized benefits to this mode of healthcare delivery are clear.

Leverage telehealth to increase access to care
Nearly 1 in 5 Americans reside in rural areas, yet only around 12% of doctors practice in these communities. Rural America is especially low on specialists: Rural areas have about a third as many specialists per capita as urban locales. A growing shortage of doctors in the US will likely result in even fewer on-site physicians in rural communities, and limit patients’ access to care even further.

Many healthcare providers are reluctant to live in rural areas, and travel can be time-consuming and costly. Telehealth technology allows healthcare providers to expand their reach and provide care to patients living in rural communities without the need for those physicians to travel to or reside in remote locales. By utilizing telehealth, specialists can deliver quality care to patients from any location, ensuring that patients in rural communities receive the care they need, regardless of their location.

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