A Significant Challenge For Rural Communities
Access to healthcare is a significant issue in rural communities. Besides the physical barrier of travel distance to get to the hospital, these populations are often full of patients who are uninsured or have multiple comorbid conditions. In remote areas, telehealth can be a gamechanger for expanding access to healthcare.
Understanding telehealth options
Telehealth is a broad term that refers to any delivery of healthcare via technology. For example, patients may be able to send an instant message or pictures to a primary care provider to seek advice before or instead of making an in-office visit. Telemedicine options can also offer rural populations more access to specialists, such as cardiologists, ophthalmologists, or dermatologists.
Why does this matter for rural hospitals?
In many rural communities, patients have to drive long distances to even get to the hospital. In life-threatening situations, this travel time is a concern. Additionally, rural hospitals often have difficulty recruiting and retaining physicians in these remote areas. Smaller hospitals can struggle with a lack of resources or a variety of specialty service lines.
Lowering overhead is crucial for rural hospitals. Studies have found that offering telemedicine services decreases the cost of care by lowering unnecessary emergency department (ED) visits and reducing readmissions. In rural communities, people often rely on the ED for healthcare and lack access to a primary care provider. With a remote healthcare option, many of these patients have a lowered reliance on the emergency department.
While decreasing costs is vital, keeping the quality of care high is also crucial. One way that telehealth can benefit rural communities is by offering more advanced care options. In one experiment, a hospital tried using telehealth consultations to aid in resuscitating newborns instead of moving the babies to an urban hospital. The hospital saw a transfer reduction of almost 30% and a cost savings of $1.2 million combined for families. In a similar vein, just one instance of using telehealth instead of transferring a newborn added up to a cost savings of $18,000. At the same time, not moving the child significantly reduced the strain on the family who got to stay at home, surrounded by a community of support.
Another analysis found that using telemedicine for diagnostics and consultations saved up to $20,000 per year. Additionally, remote monitoring significantly reduces the rate of ED readmissions. With these technology options, physicians can check on patients who have diabetes, COPD, or heart failure without the patient having to come to the hospital.
How will telehealth help you?
There are a variety of ways that telehealth can help rural hospitals. One of the most significant is by expanding access to care. Start the conversation today about the benefits of telemedicine for the small hospital.