Time has not been kind to rural healthcare providers and their communities. Over the last decade, numerous rural hospitals have shuttered, and medical practices have been unable to sustain the cost of running a practice in P.O. box counties. The result is a medical desert encompassing large swaths of the United States, leaving millions underserved.
What happens when you need a doctor or hospital, but the closest one is over an hour’s drive away? And what about those who cannot spare three to four hours in their day to make the trip there, their appointment, and the trip back? Or those who lack transportation and rely on the kindness of neighbors to get around?
In the past, these individuals simply suffered or even lost their lives. Now, telemedicine in rural areas is filling in the gap.
When we picture telemedicine, there are two things that come to mind: the old school phone conferencing system and the more modern video conferencing that took hold during the pandemic. However, telemedicine is a bit more complex than that.
It can be offered directly by a medical practice or outsourced to healthcare call centers. It might rely on phone calls or video conferencing, but it could also include remote monitoring apps, cloud storage for imaging, and patients education resources. It can even include group therapies and other non-one-on-one treatments.
The Importance of Telehealth in Rural Areas
Patients Can Access Specialized Services
In many rural communities, the only doctor is a general practitioner who treats the whole family, offering everything from childhood vaccines to obstetrics care. But sometimes, you need a specialist. When this is the case, patients often have to commute to cities hours away, staying overnight to make their appointment.
Telemedicine allows those in rural areas to speak with specialists and get their assessment and guidance without having to travel, book hotel rooms, and incur significant costs that insurance won’t cover.
Rural Hospitals Can Increase Their Staff
One of the reasons rural hospitals are closing is that they don’t have the staff to sustain them. In addition to paying less than hospitals in cities, many doctors just aren’t interested in relocating to work at them.
However, telemedicine in rural communities allows doctors to work remotely. They can attend consultations virtually, with the in-person session being led by a registered nurse or other healthcare professional.
The doctor can deliver instructions while the nurse carries out the exam and relays what they observe. Together, they can come to a diagnosis and formulate a treatment plan.
It Serves the Underserved
Ultimately, the biggest benefit of telehealth in rural communities is its ability to reach the underserved. While there is a lot of focus on poverty in urban areas, there is also plenty in rural areas as well.
And unlike in cities, these individuals cannot just hop on the bus or metro to get to a doctor, and there are far fewer free clinics available to them. For them, telemedicine is often the only medicine that is accessible, and is essential to their wellbeing.
To better serve your rural clients, look into virtual patient engagement solutions, including those related to telemedicine. For assistance in reaching these patients, speak with Sequence Health. We offer healthcare internet marketing solutions that work for providers of all sizes.