One of the gravest problems in U.S. health care is equitable access. That’s why we listed an increased adoption of mobile health services and telehealth as a trend we expect to see on the rise in 2018. While metropolitan areas are dominated with a plethora of specialties, rural communities are currently facing a shortage of providers, which has steadily worsened in recent years. The National Rural Health Association reported that rural areas could be short 45,000 doctors by 2020. While the number of doctors begins to dwindle and the number of hospital closures increase, where do people in these towns go to access healthcare?
Well, what if the specialist’s expertise could come to the local hospital?
This is where the emergence of telehealth and telemedicine can begin to ameliorate the access issue. Remote delivery of healthcare services and clinical information to areas where access is limited allows for providers from top institutions to offer their expertise to providers in rural areas. One such telemedicine initiative is the Mayo Clinic’s telemedicine program. This service allows for timely consultations for emergency cases or specialist consultations.
For the remote consultations to have effective results on the outcome of the patient, time is everything. Earlier this year the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, AZ unveiled a fully equipped mobile stroke unit powered by Ambra Health which enables the medical team to evaluate, diagnose, and even start treatment before the patient arrives at the hospital. The specialized truck carries equipment such as mobile CT scans that ambulances do not currently provide.
Over the years there has been increased traction in telehealth initiatives even extending to allowing the physician to consult patients virtually from the patient’s own home. Of course, this is limited to the treatment of certain chronic conditions and cannot fully substitute all in-person physician visits. For the time being, telehealth is making efforts in addressing the issue of accessibility. Telemedicine won’t directly solve the shortage of physicians in rural areas, however, the accessibility of physicians virtually attempts to bridge the gap of inequitable access to healthcare.