People who live in remote or rural parts of the United States face increased health risks – at a greater distance from medical centers, it's harder for them to receive life-saving emergency or preventative care.
According to the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health, approximately 62 million Americans live in remote areas that can compromise access to necessary medical services. Now, with more advanced and affordable communication technologies, doctors across the world are able to help and treat patients remotely via telehealth applications.
"Sixty percent of trauma deaths occur in rural parts of the country."
Health challenges for rural Americans
NOSORH states that 24 percent of rural Americans cannot access a Level I or II trauma center within an hour. This contributes to the fact that 60 percent of trauma deaths occur in rural parts of the country. Costs are also disproportionate between urban and rural patients – those who live in rural areas pay approximately 7 percent more out of pocket for healthcare and are about 8 percent more likely to be uninsured than urban patients.
Research from Oregon State University and the Oregon Health and Science University points out that elderly patients who live in rural areas are at an especially large disadvantage – they found that rural seniors have more chronic illnesses, take more medications and have shorter life spans than seniors who live in urban areas and have faster and easier access to health care. Older patients are at greater risk because they tend to have more mobility problems and fewer transportation options than their younger rural counterparts.
Using telehealth technology to treat rural patients
The Health Resources and Services Administration through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has set up a series of telehealth resource centers across the country to help aid hospitals and other medical facilities to better connect with rural patients. The HRSA defines two main categories of telehealth care – real-time communication, which allows doctors to consult directly with patients from any location via technology like video conferencing, and store-and-forward telehealth tech, which includes sending digital imaging across departments for diagnosis.
Hospitals and medical staff can have a hands-on approach in assisting patients who cannot reach them. Doctors save time by not having to travel across wide areas to see rural patients. Telehealth allows them to take multiple appointments a day with patients who would otherwise have no means of seeing a physician.
Hospitals and Health Networks Magazine gave the example of the Intermountain Healthcare in Utah as a successful integration of telehealth care. Using teleconferencing, the healthcare network was able to connect dozens of critical care specialists to rural facilities and patients. Within six months of connecting telehealth services to rural hospitals, mortality rates dropped and patient hospital stays were shortened. Being able to reach patients more frequently and in less time resulted in an immediate improvement in their overall health.
For hospitals to better expand their reach to patients in need, they must have the equipment in their facilities that allows for telehealth conferencing. By adding these equipment systems to their facilities, hospitals can save more lives and provide better care for patients across the board.
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