While rural residents enjoy the many benefits of living outside of the city, one of the main downsides of living in rural areas is access to healthcare services.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people living in rural areas are more likely to pass away prematurely than urban residents. The current rural population in the United States remains at approximately 57 million, while more than 272 million Americans live in urban areas. The following are five leading causes of death in rural areas:
- Heart disease
- Unintentional injury
- Chronic lower respiratory disease
There is a scarcity of medical professionals serving in rural communities.
In addition, rural residents face several barriers to medical access, such as long travel times and limited public transportation.
Remote care delivery can help improve the health of rural residents. Telemedicine or telehealth plays a vital role in healthcare development, especially in reducing barriers to care for people who live far away from specialists.
Telehealth has recently shown triumphs in the medical field by reaching more patients living in remote areas with limited access to care, especially during the pandemic. Telemedicine in rural areas makes the most significant difference in how people perceive medicinal aid from a distance.
Healthcare systems across the country are implementing telehealth programs in rural areas to provide better access to quality care.
If you’re a healthcare professional practicing in the city or rural areas, this article will give you an overview of telehealth in far-flung locations. You’ll learn why your practice should start offering remote care services to distant communities.
Telemedicine is unfamiliar to patients in rural areas.
Rural areas have since struggled to find the best way to access their needed care. One of the challenges was the slow development of telemedicine, even though its original intent was to provide basic care to rural and underserved patients.
Because telemedicine is unfamiliar, rural patients would rather receive in-person care in the early days of remote healthcare. However, there are many restrictions during the early telemedicine programs provided to rural patients due to limited staff and resources.
With the evolution of technology and the advent of the internet, telemedicine improved, and the traditional rural telemedicine shifted quickly to widely-used digital healthcare.
Initially intended to provide primary care to rural or underserved communities, telemedicine or telehealth has expanded significantly. Today, higher rates of telehealth use have been standard in many practices since the pandemic.
In addition, state laws and health insurance payers made necessary changes in their policies to promote and expand access to telehealth. Some of these policy changes are temporary, while some have become permanent.
Telemedicine has been through a lot — what was once a mere option to access basic care became a viable healthcare model that greatly enhanced the quality of rural healthcare.
Telemedicine expands access to healthcare in rural communities.
According to the CDC, people living in rural areas experience worse health outcomes due to inadequate access to essential medical services. Rural residents also tend to be sicker than those living in urban areas.
There are two main barriers to accessing healthcare in rural communities:
- Long-distance Travel
The location of rural homes is one of the main reasons residents are at higher risk of passing away prematurely. Rural patients who need immediate medical attention or go to the emergency room may have to travel a long distance just to get to the nearest hospital. Even though healthcare facilities are in rural areas, there aren’t enough to accommodate the needed care of millions of Americans living in far-flung communities.
Traveling long distances isn’t just time-consuming; it is also expensive. It requires time off of work, fuel costs, food expenses, and sometimes, even hotel stay. In short, healthcare can be quite expensive for people living in rural areas.
- Lack of Access to Specialists
Rural areas generally have primary care practitioners, but the communities often lack specialists. For example, if a patient has a heart problem and requires professional medical assistance, they might not be able to see a cardiologist in person. Without telemedicine, residents in rural regions could struggle to see a specialist.
Telehealth utilizes telecommunications and other electronic modalities to support clinical services at a distance. This has expanded health coverage to many people living in rural areas. Patients can get diagnosed, treated, and cared for from the comfort of their homes.
The option for telemedicine in rural areas provides virtual consultations, follow-up visits, medication management, and several clinical services.
Telehealth offers numerous advantages for millions of people living in rural areas.
Telehealth changes how far-flung communities receive medical care by providing remote care through telecommunications, gadgets such as wearable devices, and the internet.
The many advantages of telemedicine do not only reach patients who reside in rural areas, but healthcare providers and critical access hospitals also benefit from remote care delivery in various ways.
Telemedicine Is Convenient For Rural Patients
Many rural patients may be unwilling at first to receive remote care services due to technology. But telemedicine solutions like Curogram make it easy for patients to access care.
Curogram’s 2-way texting system allows patients to easily book an appointment without the need to call the clinic. If they want to reschedule, they could simply reply to the automated appointment reminder sent to them days or hours before their virtual meeting. This will give your practice enough time to fill in the vacant slot.
Moreover, distant providers can monitor patients who need special care due to chronic conditions, such as heart and disease, with remote patient monitoring (RPM). These home monitoring devices notify providers if there are any unusual shifts in the patients’ vital signs, such as heart rate or blood sugar level. Based on this remote information, a provider may recommend going to a hospital if a patient needs to.
In short, telemedicine helps rural patients receive better preventive care.
Telemedicine Benefits Healthcare Providers In Rural Areas
A study shows that there is a relative shortage of physicians, primarily specialists, in rural areas in the United States. The study notes that the more highly specialized the healthcare provider is, the less likely they’ll settle in a rural area with fewer patients and limited medical equipment or technology. However, telemedicine is changing this.
With telehealth technology, healthcare specialists can provide remote care services to rural patients from across America regardless of their location. Furthermore, telemedicine increases practice revenue by allowing you to accept and see more patients. It also improves clinical workflows and enhances practice efficiency.
By offering telehealth to your patients, you empower them to book online appointments, get diagnosed and receive necessary treatment via live-video conferencing, and easily schedule a follow-up appointment if needed.
Telemedicine in Rural Areas Benefit Critical Access Hospitals
Telemedicine reduces unnecessary visits to medical institutions as it serves as a triage to determine patients who need urgent care. Through a virtual appointment, providers make an initial diagnosis. They will then suggest if the patient needs to go to a hospital for severe or emergency cases.
Moreover, critical access hospitals benefit from telemedicine in rural areas as much as any other abovementioned group by:
- Getting bigger salaries since healthcare workers can admit more patients online
- Leaving a good impression on the community due to service expansion
- Allowing the staff to attend and receive virtual learning, which results in significant cost savings and improved proficiency
Now that we’ve covered the advantages remote care services in rural areas, it is not without drawbacks. You also need to learn about these disadvantages to prepare your medical practice better when introducing or offering telehealth to rural patients.
Despite the promise telehealth holds to improve rural healthcare, there are often downsides that you must overcome.
Telehealth in rural areas, and anywhere else, comes with plenty of advantages that make many people's lives easy and comfortable. However, like any other health model, telemedicine has a few drawbacks that hinder its implementation and usage.
There are four most notable disadvantages of telemedicine implementation in rural areas.
The issue in reimbursement is often cited as a major challenge for telehealth programs. State laws and health insurance payers have varying policies regarding telemedicine reimbursement, not to mention several restrictions, including eligible providers, originating and distant sites, and service limitations. Make sure to keep updated on the reimbursement policies in your state.
When you’re from an urban area, offering telehealth in rural areas in different states requires you to obtain a cross-state license to be an eligible telemedicine provider. However, cross-state licensing can be demanding and requires a lot of documentation and steps. Fortunately, many states are members of the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact (IMLC), an agreement to simplify the licensing process for physicians who want to practice in multiple states.
- Patient’s Acceptance
Introducing telemedicine to patients, especially the older generation, can be challenging as it involves technicality. In general, residents of rural areas in the United States tend to be older than their urban counterparts. Rural patients probably have varying comfort levels when it comes to telehealth. Some may be adept, while others might not have the knowledge needed to adapt to a remote care program quickly. But with Curogram, the features are easy to navigate with just a few clicks, and they are likely to use the technology in their everyday lives already.
- The Internet
Remote care delivery requires the use of the internet, including in patients’ homes. There are rural communities that do not currently have access to internet connection speeds to support the effective and efficient transmission of data to provide telehealth services.
Additional challenges restricting the adoption of telehealth in rural areas include patients’ privacy and security. One of the best ways to overcome these barriers is implementing a telemedicine solution that patients can trust and bringing productivity and revenue to your medical practice.
Rural telehealth has fewer setbacks compared to telemedicine in general. It is undeniable that the advantages of rural telemedicine outweigh the disadvantages.
How can Curogram help your practice offer telehealth services to rural areas?
Accomplishing long-term health goals in rural communities is a lot easier with access to quality care and the guidance of a medical professional. Fortunately, telehealth makes it easier!
To improve your telehealth program, you need a telemedicine solution that is reliable, compliant with privacy regulations, and user-friendly.
Curogram is a 2-way texting platform designed specifically for medical professionals. It boasts numerous valuable features to help your practice successfully implement remote care.
Curogram is web-based and features a user-friendly interface, so your staff will be able to start using it right away — no special training is necessary. In short, you don’t need to be tech-savvy to start using Curogram’s platform.
The following are why healthcare providers are choosing Curogram:
Curogram allows you to replicate real-life workflows
The primary goal was to make an easy-to-use app. Curogram lets you set up multiple virtual clinics and waiting rooms while mimicking the in-person workflow your medical staff is used to.
Curogram allows you to send patient intake forms with ease
You can send electronic patient intake forms via encrypted texts or secure web forms. The forms will return as PDF files, so you’ll have all the info you need before the patient arrives for an online visit.
Curogram integrates with the most popular EHRs
Curogram integrates with more than 700 of the most widely-used EHRs. The data is synced between the platform and your EHR, eliminating the need for manual or double entry. It also reduces human error.
Curogram sends automated appointment reminders
Clinics lose tens of thousands of dollars annually due to no-shows. Curogram minimizes the chances that someone will miss their appointment. The platform lets you customize appointment reminders and automatically sends them to your patients.
Curogram facilitates internal communication and file sharing
With Curogram, your medical staff can exchange patient records and other sensitive medical information on a secure, fully HIPAA compliant platform. That facilitates internal communication, alleviates stress, and streamlines your workflow.
Curogram offers HIPAA-compliant texting
Texting is the most requested feature by telemedicine patients. On average, Curogram cuts down phone call volumes by 50%.
With Curogram, offering telehealth services to rural areas is easier than ever. You can set up a virtual clinic in less than 48 hours and start admitting patients online right away. Curogram allows you to get a head start in the telehealth field as time is crucial, now that more healthcare providers and patients, especially in rural communities, recognize the many benefits of switching to remote care.