Can Telemedicine Provide Relief for Rural Hospital Closures?
HealthCare for All
Healthcare should be available to all people in the United States whether they choose to live in cities or in the country. Unfortunately, many people who live in rural areas are not able to access the healthcare they need.
About 20% of the population in the United States live in rural areas and due to a number of different reasons, hospitals in rural areas have been forced to close their doors. Some of the reasons why rural hospitals have closed are: fewer doctors wanting to work in rural areas, Medicaid cuts, small budgets that can’t support the mandate to switch to electronic patient records, and for those non-profit hospitals, not being able to provide benefits to the community in order to receive tax benefits.
The closure of many rural hospitals puts people living in those rural areas at risk. Strokes, heart attacks, and traumatic injuries demand immediate medical attention and, if the nearest hospital is an hour or more away, people in need of urgent medical care will die.
Telehealth: A Growth Industry
The use of Telehealth technologies may offer a solution and may be able to save lives when easy access to a hospital is not available. Telehealth uses today’s technologies including smart phones, wireless equipment, two-way video, email, etc. to connect those needing healthcare with doctors across the United States.
Telemedicine and how it Works
Telemedicine provides a way for doctors and patients to be able to interact through the use of various types of technology which allows remote monitoring, referrals, and communication. Telemedicine also allows patients to have access to specialists and provides medical and health information.
Benefits of Telemedicine
There are many benefits that telemedicine can offer, not only in the area of physical health, but also in the economic, emotional, and educational health of the targeted community. Telemedicine can provide improved access to medical specialists, improved clinical outcomes, increased patient satisfaction and is cost effective.
Access to Specialists
With remote access services which include video-streaming, teleconferencing, along with tablet and smartphone applications, where a patient lives will not matter when he or she needs to find and interact with a medical specialist. By using a smartphone, tablet or computer, telemedicine will allow for face to face interaction. The use of portable, wearable monitoring systems will allow healthcare providers to access real-time data without having to be in the same room with the patient.
Improved Clinical Outcomes
Healthcare services and patient monitoring can be provided immediately through the use of telemedicine which can lead to improved clinical outcomes. These improved clinical outcomes are due to the fact that telemedicine allows patients to be diagnosed and treated more quickly, assists doctors to avoid medical complications, decreases the time spent in the hospital and ultimately, decreases mortality rates.
Increased Patient Satisfaction
Knowing that healthcare providers are easily accessible gives patients a feeling of security and comfort. Not having to take time off from work or drive long distances to see a doctor also increases patient satisfaction.
Telemedicine provides many ways to save money and to keep the cost of providing healthcare down. The management of disease, community based health initiatives, and preventing complications and hospitalizations can all be achieved through telemedicine and can all be done at minimum cost. Patients will also save money on gas, tolls, and parking and will not lose time from their jobs due to having to travel to urban locations to access healthcare.
Telemedicine in Action
Telemedicine when implemented in the real world has been shown to save money. In 2003 and 2007, Veteran’s Health Administration saw an almost 20% reduction in hospital visits from 30,000 patients enrolled in home a telehealth programs. In North Carolina, hospitalization rates for seniors fell 25% for patients enrolled in a telehealth program over 3 years.
What to Look For
If you decide to use a hospital that offers telemedicine, be sure to ask if you will be able to connect with your doctor through video chat as it is important that both you and your healthcare provider can see and hear each other. You should also make sure that the system that you will be using is simple to navigate and if you can try it out to be sure that you understand how it works. Finally, ask if your doctor will provide a summary at the conclusion of any interaction so that you can access any instructions or advice at a later time.
Telemedicine for rural hospitals is still costly but the costs appear to be coming down. There are also some concerns about the quality and consistency of care when local providers have fewer procedures due to easy access to referrals elsewhere. Telemedicine will not solve all of the problems rural hospitals face, but it can provide some options that have not been available before.
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