How Can We Improve Rural Healthcare?
In rural areas, the local hospital is often the community’s only access to healthcare. Keeping these small hospitals running efficiently and cost-effectively is crucial. However, due to cost challenges, recruitment difficulties, and staffing shortages, community hospitals can struggle to offer quality care round the clock. In the emergency department (ED), telemedicine can help improve the coordination of care.
What is telemedicine?
In general, telemedicine refers to the diagnosis and treatment of patients via technology. This could include a video call, texting, emailing, or communicating via a secure app. Engaging in an e-visit or consultation is often far more cost-effective for both the patient and the healthcare organization. Especially in rural areas where providers often are spread thin, telemedicine helps to reduce the strain on healthcare providers by lowering the volume of in-office hours.
Benefits for patients
One way that some hospitals have used telemedicine is through providing initial consultations over a video call as part of the ED triage process. Not only does this improve efficiency but the practice can significantly reduce overhead costs. Especially in the rural setting, this can make a crucial difference.
Improving case management
Remote medicine provides a wide range of options for improving efficiencies in hospitals. For example, many small hospitals benefit from employing a remote case management team. These telecase management staff members help to cover crucial gaps in coverage outside of regular business hours. In rural communities, these overnight hours are often when the majority of patients present at the ED. Ensuring robust case management during these hours is essential.
Benefits for physicians
Telehealth services provide significant benefits for healthcare providers as well. One challenge of recruiting physicians to rural areas is the lack of access to collaboration with other experts. With telemedicine, physicians in the ED have access to other specialists in a timely, efficient manner.
Increased cost savings
Telemedicine can have a direct impact on improving the coordination of care by eliminating unnecessary transfers. In rural communities, patients often need to be transferred to more urban areas to receive critical attention. However, one experiment tested using telehealth services to aid in resuscitating newborns instead of moving the babies. The result was an almost 30% reduction in transfers and $1.2 million total saved for families. In another community, using telemedicine eliminated the need to transfer a baby born with a hole in the lung. Transferring the patient would have cost $18,000. In addition to these tremendous cost savings, the family of the newborn was able to stay close to home, surrounded by a community of support while the newborn received lifesaving care.
Explore new possibilities
Telemedicine offers a variety of options for hospitals. Especially in rural healthcare, telehealth can help community hospitals to reduce overhead while still providing high-quality, timely care. Explore the possibilities of telemedicine today.