With telemedicine, geography does not determine quality of healthcare

Doctor holding globe


Since 2005, 181 rural hospitals have closed their doors. With around 15 percent of the population, or roughly 46 million people, living in rural communities, these closures have been no less than catastrophic for the residents in these districts as having to drive long distances to receive trauma, stroke, or mental health care can be stressful, frustrating, and even life-threatening.

There are many reasons for these closures – an aging population, advances in outpatient procedures, insurance issues, and (thanks to the pandemic) the delaying of non-essential surgeries. A lack of providers is also a primary challenge for medical facilities working to stay afloat. It is estimated that only one-tenth of working physicians practice within rural regions. 

Compounding the issues, and according to the CDC, those living in rural communities face more health issues than those in urban areas. They are statistically more likely to die from cancer, accidents, heart disease, chronic lower respiratory disease, and strokes. Deaths from unintended injuries are 50 percent higher in rural areas, and it is reported that rural residents are prone to have increased rates of cigarette smoking, drug use, and unhealthy diets, leading to severe consequences.

There is no doubt that the rural population needs improved healthcare and support. Telemedicine is one such way to reduce barriers to care for people in rural communities. By providing access to virtual providers, patients can see doctors faster, get the care they need in emergency situations, have access to mental health support, and gain the necessary tools to improve disease prevention. 


Patients can be seen faster with telemedicine

In traditional settings, when a rural patient needs to go to the doctor, they most likely must drive a long distance and sit in a waiting room for maybe another hour before they finally have a chance to speak with the doctor. When a qualified medical professional is available for a visit online, patients can avoid these headaches and receive faster care. 

There is even more of a benefit for those who are unable to travel far because of mobility reasons, can't take time off work, or can't find childcare. The convenience factor is critical, as the easier it is to get a patient in front of a doctor, the less likely that patient will cancel or no-show that appointment. 


Virtual care improves disease prevention and increases early detection

Canceled and no-show appointments, or making no appointment at all, often leads to a lack of screenings. As a result, residents of rural regions have an increased risk of being diagnosed with later-stage diseases when compared with urban residents.

Depending on the telemedicine service, providers can keep records on high-risk patients, schedule follow-ups, and intercede before the individual's condition is severe enough to need readmission. Some facilities will further optimize communication between departments to keep everyone updated and monitoring the patient's progress. 


Telepsychiatrists provide mental health support

Telemedicine is a highly effective way to deliver mental healthcare access to rural populations through telepsychiatry. This subset of telemedicine can include psychiatric evaluations, different types of therapies, patient education, and medication management. Not only does telepsychiatry provide access to behavioral healthcare that might not otherwise be geographically available, but it combines mental healthcare and primary care, leading to better outcomes.

Some demographics, such as children and teenagers, may actually have a better experience with a telemedicine mental health provider than an in-person physician. In smaller communities, where it is not uncommon to run into your doctor at the grocery store, having a sense of anonymity can provide reassurance for these patients. 


Telemedicine improves access to stroke care

A study published in the American Heart Association's journal Stroke evaluated the distance stroke patients travel to receive care. It is no surprise that the results found that rural residents traveled the farthest. The consequences of delayed care in stroke cases are severe, as each additional minute of delay decreases a patient's chance of a full recovery.

The CDC's Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention encourages the use of telemedicine services to reduce stroke risk factors in rural communities. Furthermore, studies show that connecting virtual neurological care to smaller rural medical facilities helps increase the use of life-saving therapies.


A zip code should not determine health outcomes

Telemedicine is an excellent opportunity to deliver quality patient care to everyone, no matter where they reside. To ensure that those in rural communities obtain the same level of medical attention available in big cities, we must continue to use technology to reduce obstacles, maintain quality, and educate those about the benefits of virtual care. Contact us for a demo to see how VirtualMed can leverage your community's existing resources to improve the patient experience.


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