Healthcare across rural areas in the United States continues to evolve, thanks to the advent of telehealth services. Read more about how it’s doing below.
In this article:
- What Are Telehealth Services?
- Health Disparities Between Community Hospitals in Urban and Rural Areas
- Challenges of Healthcare in Rural Areas
- How Telemedicine Services Are Helping Transform Rural Healthcare
- Top Telehealth Companies in America
Rural Areas and Healthcare: How Telehealth Services Are Making a Big Difference
What Are Telehealth Services?
Telehealth services or telemedicine services refer to the digital exchange and transfer of medical information between two or more medical institutions. In particular, they involve services like:
- Transmission of medical images like x-rays or MRI images
- Conducting medical consultations through video calls or conferences
- Remote viewing and/or controlling of patients’ vital signs by health professionals
- Nursing call centers
- Other medical services conducted online
Health Disparities Between Community Hospitals in Urban and Rural Areas
Hospitals and clinics in urban areas, especially the big cities, have the benefit of high population density. More people equals higher volume and often, bigger budgets.
With bigger budgets, urban community hospitals can afford to have health specialists in their roster. These include, among others:
And with high volumes, more patients get health coverage in urban area hospitals.
On the other hand, community hospitals in small towns or rural communities normally don’t enjoy the benefit of a high population density. Consequently, their volume and budgets are way less than those of hospitals in urban areas.
That’s why community hospitals in rural areas rarely, if at all, have access to a number of key primary care services and specialist physicians. Low population density is also a reason why residents in rural areas across the country have poor or no access to healthcare coverage.
Challenges of Healthcare in Rural Areas
Acute Care Services
One of the challenges residents of small towns across rural America face is access to acute care services. They need to travel great distances just to access acute care providers, mostly in urban or metro areas.
Basic Primary Care and Mental Health Services
Another rural healthcare challenge faced by patients is access to basic primary care and mental health services. Low population density minimizes budgets, which constrict community hospitals in rural counties or rural communities from hiring needed health workers.
Again, people living in rural areas across the country need to travel far to access basic primary care and mental health services.
Support for Caregivers
Another healthcare challenge in remote areas across rural America concerns local caregivers. Because residents with acute medical needs often go to specialized physicians in urban or metro areas, they hardly get the chance to learn how to care for patients with complicated conditions.
As such, local caregivers don’t learn more advanced caregiving techniques from specialist physicians and health workers, they can’t help advanced patients.
Hence, rural America residents are forced to travel far and pay huge costs to get the medical care they badly need.
For example, an infant born in a remote area of rural America with a serious lung condition requires crucial critical care consultations.
To transport that baby to an urban hospital with a specialist physician may cost up to $18,000, particularly if a helicopter is needed. It doesn’t include hospitalization costs of confinement in an urban hospital, which is higher than in a rural one.
How Telemedicine Services Are Helping Transform Rural Healthcare
Telemedicine and telehealth services are radically transforming healthcare in rural areas in several ways:
- They’re giving rural hospitals the ability to provide acute, primary care, and basic mental health services to residents. People who live in rural communities no longer need to travel far and incur huge expenses to receive such services.
- They are helping community hospitals in rural areas earn more revenues and become more profitable. Thanks to telehealth services, e.g., online consultations and video conferencing, rural hospitals can now handle more complex cases in-house. Therefore, they earn more of the revenues from taking care of residents in their areas, not the distant urban hospitals.
- Telehealth is transforming healthcare in rural areas by upgrading the skills of local caregivers and physicians through online consultations and video conferences. Through diagnoses, instructions, and recommendations of specialist physicians from urban hospitals, rural health workers continue growing in skills and knowledge.
- Telehealth is transforming the healthcare landscape in rural counties by enabling rural hospitals to contribute more to local economic development. When community hospitals in remote areas earn higher income through higher-value services, they can pay more taxes. It also gives them the ability to provide more employment opportunities to local residents.
- Telehealth services are empowering small medical facilities to meet important federal government standards, such as antibiotic programs. Many small facilities fail to implement appropriate antibiotics-use programs due to costs and lack of know-how, both of which are being addressed by telehealth services.
Top Telehealth Companies in America
According to the website Healthcare Tech Outlook, here some of the best:
- Akos is a telehealth service provider that lets patients connect with their healthcare provider anytime and anywhere, even in small towns across rural America.
- AMD Global Telemedicine helps patients get in touch with remote healthcare providers whenever, wherever.
- Homestead Health helps patients avail of telehealth services to minimize the chances of readmission that are both easy and cost-effective.
- MediOrbis provides patients with excellent telemedicine services in practically all medical, clinical, and diagnostic fields.
- Teladoc Health gives its customers a wide range of online healthcare solutions. These include telehealth services, specialized medical consultations, and authorized medical platform services.
- American Well is a leading telehealth services company in the U.S. It provides easy access to many high-quality yet affordable healthcare services.
- MD creates easy-to-use telehealth software that focuses on the effective identification and treatment of usual health issues. Through their software, medical facilities can provide low-cost but high-quality telehealth diagnoses and treatments for patients anywhere.
- Dr+ on Demand focuses on high-tech healthcare-related video consulting and conferencing. Through this platform, patients can make online consultations with licensed health professionals anytime and anywhere via electronic devices.
- Intermountain Healthcare is one of the biggest medical companies in the country, with a team of about 40,000 caregivers. It provides a comprehensive lineup of top-notch healthcare services that are all supported by its expansive telehealth network across Utah, southern Idaho, and southern Nevada areas.
Telehealth is changing the way medical facilities in rural areas provide healthcare to their constituents. Don’t be surprised if it becomes the norm in urban areas, too.
Do you think that telehealth is the future of healthcare services in both urban and rural areas? Let us know in the comments section below.
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Top 10 Telemedicine Solution Providers – 2019 – Healthcare Tech Outlook.com
Telehealth Is Improving Health Care in Rural Areas – hbr.org