Telemedicine and Improving Rural Healthcare

Rural Americans face different challenges in accessing quality healthcare than their urban counterparts. Spatial disparities pose one of the biggest challenges, as those living in rural areas often have much less direct access to healthcare facilities and professionals. A promising solution to this challenge comes in the form of telemedicine and the corresponding technological infrastructure.

The American Telemedicine Association formally defines telemedicine as the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status. They continue, telemedicine includes a growing variety of applications and services using two-way video, email, smart phones, wireless tools and other forms of telecommunications technology.

As telemedicine continues to gain traction, the number of telemedical tools available is growing and providing a way for situation specific tailoring of quality healthcare provision. This customized care is exactly what rural areas need, as they constitute a very different demographic than more urban communities. Telemedicine and the associated technology helps to increase the quality of healthcare delivered in rural areas while also decreasing the time necessary to deliver the care.

Examples of how telemedicine can improve the quality of rural healthcare include:

  • Connecting health professionals with patients, regardless of their location With technology services like Skype, GoToMeeting, and other similar applications, health professionals can expand their range of service provision. This is especially helpful for patients needing the advisement and care of specialized service providers which are often physically located even further than general practitioners.
  • The potential for remote monitoring of in-home clinical observations Patients could be given hospital quality monitoring devices in their homes. These devices would digitally send updates of their vitals to their physicians, giving the physicians direct access to their patient’s clinical status at any time. This also decreases the need for patients to travel into health facilities for routine check-ups.
  • Connecting physicians with the latest medical information and best practices Telemedical technology can also be utilized by physicians practicing in rural areas. If rural physicians cannot directly attend medical conferences and educational seminars, they could connect to these information resources via telemedical technology helping them to better stay current and up to date on new medical information and best practices.


About the Author:

Alexis Brana is a Graduate Student studying Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia

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