February 17, 2021
How Telehealth is Helping People Living in Rural Areas Access Healthcare
Statistically, those living in rural areas are less likely to find adequate healthcare than their urban counterparts. Here’s how telehealth is helping to shift the balance.
Those living in rural areas are less likely to describe themselves as being ‘in good health’ than their urban and suburban counterparts, according to a national consumer survey by the Transamerica Center for Health Studies.
The numbers confirm this: Statistically, those living in rural areas are sicker, poorer, and less likely to find access to adequate healthcare. They’re also more likely than those living in urban areas to die prematurely from the five leading causes of death: heart disease, stroke, chronic lower respiratory disease, cancer, and unintentional injury.
What are the Barriers to Accessing Healthcare in Rural Areas?
Not only are there prohibitively long distances to travel to reach a clinic—those that are within reach will often be limited in scope, and not be equipped to deal with the complexities of managing chronic health conditions. Even when specialists are nearby, there are often too few to ensure full and consistent coverage.
1. Long travel times
Picture a rural house. Fields as far as the eye can see, a single road stretching out into the distance. You’re lucky if you find a gas station, let alone a healthcare specialist. This is rural living at its most extreme, but it’s how millions of people live all across America. Even those living in well-equipped small towns may be miles away from the closest clinic.
Long distances aren’t just time-consuming: long-distance travel means time off work, fuel costs, perhaps a stay overnight in an unfamiliar town or city, plus childcare. For those living with chronic conditions that require regular check-ups, it’s simply not possible or affordable.
3. Lack of access to specialists
Those living with primary illnesses often have secondary symptoms, many of which are life-altering. Not only do these come with physical challenges, the mental strain that comes from living with a chronic illness is enormous. Treatment is difficult because it often requires the cooperation of more than one specialist—and it’s much harder to find healthcare specialists in rural areas.
Those living in rural areas have hospital closures, limited access to specialists, and long travel distances standing in the way of them getting the treatments they need. (Image Source)
Rural America is Becoming a Healthcare Desert
The situation is worsening. Over the past decade, at least 128 rural hospitals have closed. Another 450 (21 percent of rural hospitals) are financially unstable. In total, more than 21,500 beds are at risk. The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the situation, raising serious concerns about the accessibility of health care in rural areas.
“Even before COVID-19, many rural residents faced health and health care-related risks. The pandemic greatly magnifies these risks. At a societal level, more can and should be done to enhance the accessibility and affordability of health care,” said Christopher Wells, national program manager for TCHS, in a press release.
While COVID has put health systems under strain, there has been a silver lining: telehealth has been on an upward swing throughout 2020 due to the pandemic making distance treatment a necessity. Digital healthcare has become more widely available—something that’s making it easier for this demographic to access the care they need.
What is Digital Healthcare?
Digital healthcare is any kind of health service provided remotely—over a screen, via telephone, or using monitoring equipment (known as Remote Patient Monitoring, or RPM). It encompasses the following two subcategories:
Telehealth: from counseling and group classes to one-on-ones with a specialist, this service is as varied as each patient’s needs. It can be offered through workplaces, clinics, hospitals, or accessed on an individual basis using a private plan. The scope and flexibility are wide.
Telemedicine: as the name implies, this subset of telehealth focuses primarily on clinical services, provided virtually. Telemedicine is particularly helpful when it comes to treating those living with chronic conditions. It has made it much easier for chronic care patients to continue receiving regular support, no matter how far they live from a practitioner.
The Importance of Regular Support for Chronic Illness Sufferers
Early detection of chronic diseases can prevent them from worsening or even turning fatal. Early detection and careful management can also help patients achieve a higher quality of life and minimize the impact of their illness.
With digital healthcare services like RPM and telehealth, those living in rural areas can have greater access to specialists who can provide the care they need. Accomplishing long-term health goals is so much easier with the regular support and guidance of an expert—and digital health is making this easier.
- Telehealth makes it possible for rural patients to speak to a healthcare provider from the comfort and safety of their own home.
- Video chats and phone calls widen the accessibility options, making it easier for patients to receive care on their own terms.
- Access to a wider pool of professionals makes it convenient to connect with a specialist. It also means wait times are reduced, speeding up the patient’s journey towards a healthier life.
How ChronWell Can Help
ChronWell offers digital health services designed to help patients in rural areas access the care they need through the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. Our solutions include telemedicine, Chronic Care Management, and Remote Patient Monitoring services.
ChronWell provides physician-approved care delivered by a team of experts. This means patients can speak to a clinician 24/7 and have regular remote catch-ups encompassing referral management, medication management, and care plan adherence—all from the comfort of their own home.
If you’d like to find out more about setting up a CCM plan, speak to one of our experts today.
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