Healthcare is a fundamental human right. Yet, so many people around the globe live without access to quality healthcare. A third of the world’s population can’t even afford healthcare costs.
The situation in rural areas is particularly concerning. So huge is the gap that people in rural areas travel long distances to consult a doctor. Can the benefits of telehealth help close the gap?
Experts say, “Telehealth in rural areas is the best thing to have happened to 21st-century healthcare”. It is fast, affordable, and effortless to use.
We will explore all this and more in this blog.
What is Telehealth?
Telehealth is using telecommunication technologies to provide healthcare services at a distance. Telehealth is different because it uses technology to connect patients and providers. Telehealth can be used in many ways, including video conferencing, mobile apps, email, text messaging, and phone calls.
There are two types of Telehealth:
- Remote Monitoring
Remote monitoring is a way of providing medical care without having to go to a patient physically. Patients may receive regular checkups and treatments over the internet. If a patient is experiencing symptoms, they can send a message to their doctor. Doctors can then monitor and respond to messages almost immediately.
- Virtual Visits
Virtual visits are similar to remote monitoring, except they do not require patients to send messages. Instead, doctors make appointments with patients online and schedule virtual visits. These visits allow doctors to conduct complete physical exams and diagnose illnesses remotely.
Telehealth is often seen as a complement to traditional face-to-face medicine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 5% of US adults have used telehealth services.
The State of Healthcare in Rural Areas
Rural areas often lack access to healthcare services due to geography. Many people in rural areas do not have access to primary care physicians. As a result, many people in rural areas are forced to travel great distances to receive medical attention.
Many rural hospitals are closing down due to low populations and aging infrastructure. Community clinics are usually owned by a single physician and offer basic healthcare services to the community. Patients are charged nominal fees for services rendered. However, these clinics are usually staffed by a nurse practitioner or physician assistant.
We know that the current state of rural healthcare is less than ideal. Most rural areas lack proper healthcare infrastructure. There is also a low ratio of primary doctors and other healthcare specialists.
Telehealth for Rural Areas
It breaks several barriers that prevent rural residents from accessing quality healthcare services.
- For starters, it breaks the accessibility barrier. It allows rural residents to connect with medical professionals located far away. And it’s not that people can use it only when they are sick. It can also support people with chronic illnesses and help them choose a healthier way of life.
- Secondly, it can be a cost-saver. Yes, you read that right! Patients can save time and money traveling to a clinic. A 2015 study found that Telehealth saved $10 billion yearly in healthcare expenditures.
Telehealth Rural Areas: Benefits
So what are the benefits of Telehealth in rural areas?
Firstly, it’s accessibility. It provides access to healthcare services regardless of geographic location. Patients can receive care at home, work, school, or anywhere else. Patients can connect with their doctors without the need to travel long distances.
In other words, Telehealth reduces medical transportation, lodging, and parking costs.
Secondly, its the cost-effectiveness. It reduces the cost of delivering care. Traditional emergency rooms often charge high fees for treatment and diagnostic testing. But Telehealth eliminates these costs. It gives providers the freedom to offer low-cost options.
In other words, Telehealth makes healthcare more affordable.
Thirdly, it’s patient satisfaction. Patients are always happy with anytime, anywhere care. Patients appreciate the convenience of receiving care from wherever they are. Some even find it easier to communicate with their physicians over video chat than in person.
Fourth is the availability of care. Telehealth allows patients to seek out care whenever they need it. Patients may not even know they have a problem until they seek help. With Telehealth, people can be proactive. They can contact their providers immediately to start a plan of action.
Fifth is safety. Healthcare professionals use Telehealth to confirm patients’ well-being and ensure safety. Healthcare providers can perform routine checks on patients’ vitals. In case of something unusual, the provider can alert the patient’s family members or caregivers.
Sixth is privacy. Patient information is well protected. Providers do not need to disclose any information about a patient to anyone. This ensures privacy and confidentiality.
Finally, we can’t simply ignore flexibility. Providers can adjust their schedules to meet the needs of their patients. There are no set hours for appointments. Providers can make appointments whenever they want.
Challenges of Implementing Telehealth in Rural Areas
The first is poor connectivity. Many rural communities don’t have the same level of broadband access as urban areas.
Then there are the costs. Telehealth solutions are costly. Hence, not all providers can afford these services.
Moreover, rural residents still trust in-person visits over remote consultations. There has to be a strategy to create awareness about the benefits of Telehealth in rural areas.
But despite these challenges, Telehealth is starting to make inroads in rural America.
The Future of Telehealth in Rural Areas
Telehealth is the future of healthcare, and that’s especially true in rural areas.
Telehealth can provide access to medical care that might not otherwise be available. And that’s a massive deal because healthcare is a fundamental human right.
Plus, Telehealth is more cost-effective than traditional healthcare. It saves money on things like transportation and staffing costs. Not to forget, it eliminates the need to travel for long hours.
So what’s stopping Telehealth from becoming the norm? Mostly it’s a lack of awareness and education.
That’s why people must learn about the benefits of Telehealth. Once they do, Telehealth will go a long way in improving rural healthcare care and saving lives.
Telehealth is relatively new. But it is gaining popularity as a valuable tool in the healthcare industry.
One of the main benefits of Telehealth is its accessibility. Just with a few clicks, a rural resident can connect with health experts located thousands of miles away. That’s a mighty change.
However, like all good things, large-scale implementation of Telehealth will require time and effort on the part of the healthcare industry, the key stakeholders, and public organizations. With the proper roadmap and policies, the benefits of Telehealth can be provided to each corner of the world.