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Telemedicine & Rural Areas : Improving Accessibility

telemedicine_blog_2Do you think it’s a pain to schedule a doctor’s appointment? Imagine if you lived in a rural area and an additional 4-6 hours of travel time needed to be factored into your decision. Would you still make the appointment? A quarter of the US population lives in rural areas yet only about 10% of physicians live in those same regions.

Telemedicine is profoundly transforming the accessibility to a wide range of medical care in rural regions. According to The Role of Telehealth in an Evolving Health Care Environment, telehealth “Drives volume, increases quality of care and reduces costs by reducing readmissions and unnecessary emergency department visits for rural communities.” Telemedicine has become particularly attractive in the wake of the Affordable Care Act. Large groups can win bonus payments for meeting standards of quality and efficiency. In other words, doctors are now being paid for the outcome not the process.

A few of the benefits of telehealth in rural communities include:

Telehealth requires less expensive and time-consuming travel for patients.

Patients can more easily obtain specialty medical services.

Virtual meetings such as Skype have become a popular method of long-distance communication and are frequently utilized for tele-psychiatry.

Providers, specialists, and healthcare organizations can expand their reach through telemedicine.

Telehealth can act to improve access to health care through a few different vehicles. Wearable devices that monitor conditions such as blood pressure, glucose levels, and more, send reports to a doctor or nurse who can keep tabs on a patient from a distance.While it is still necessary for in-person visits or even home care, such devices can reduce the number of times a patients must travel out of there way simply for routine testing. Doctors can also communicate with patients and share results through a patient portal. This allows patients to view results, ask questions, and monitor their own health data. Barrow Neurological Institute, an international leader in a wide variety of neurological conditions implemented an online patient portal that makes it easy for patients to upload complex images and reports in order to request a consultation. Within 30 days of rolling out the service, approximately 20% of online referrals resulted in new surgeries, many of them for out-of-state patients.

Telemedicine is not only beneficial to patients but also to the infrastructure of rural hospitals. “When rural patients know their hospital is using telemedicine, they have higher regard for that hospital and are less likely to bypass it for treatment at an urban facility,” said James Marcin, director of the UC Davis Children’s Hospital Pediatric Telemedicine Program.

Telemedicine is changing the world of health care for the better. Have you ever received specialty care through telemedicine? What was the experience like?

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About Catherine Slotnick

Catherine Slotnick is a passionate healthcare marketer with a deep interest in the latest & greatest in the Health IT space. As Ambra Health's marketing manager, Catherine primarily focuses on creating and sharing thought leadership content in the radiology and informatics space. Catherine graduated from the University of Virginia with a BA in Psychology & Art History. When she's not writing, she enjoys cooking and petting dogs that aren't hers.

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