3 min read

Healing the Heartland: Rural Medicine in Focus

Healing the Heartland: Rural Medicine in Focus

Access to quality healthcare is a basic human right, but unfortunately, for many individuals living in rural areas, receiving timely and ongoing medical treatment isn’t always a reality.

Rural healthcare providers face unique challenges in delivering care that vary distinctively from those in urban regions, and these challenges can cause significant barriers to accessing healthcare services, leading to poorer health outcomes for residents of rural communities.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss the challenges faced in rural medicine and how Telehealth carts can help overcome them.

Challenges Faced in Rural Medicine

healthcare-workers

Shortage of Healthcare Professionals

One of the most significant challenges facing rural medicine is a shortage of healthcare professionals. Despite 20% of the US population living in rural areas, only 11% of physicians practice in these regions, leading to a severe deficit of healthcare workers. This situation is only expected to worsen, with the federal government predicting a shortage of more than 20,000 primary care physicians in rural areas by 2025.

Several factors contribute to the shortage of physicians, including the tendency of healthcare professionals to practice in the area they received their training. As the majority of medical schools and residencies are located in urban and suburban areas, they tend to attract and retain medical students more easily. Additionally, the lower reimbursement rates offered by Medicare and Medicaid to doctors in rural areas are another noteworthy factor to consider. Doctors in rural areas receive less compensation than they would if their patients had private insurance, which is a major challenge in providing quality care in these regions.

medical-stethoscope

Limited Funding and Resources

Limited funding and resources present another significant challenge in rural medicine. Due to smaller patient volumes, rural communities have fewer paying customers for healthcare services, which limits the capital rural hospitals can invest in infrastructure improvements, technology upgrades, and equipment purchases. This can significantly impede the quality of care delivered to patients.

Additionally, as noted above, rural areas often have a higher proportion of low-income and elderly residents, who are more likely to be uninsured or rely on Medicare or Medicaid for healthcare coverage. These programs offer lower reimbursement rates than private insurance, which can make it challenging for rural hospitals to cover their operating costs. In fact, financial instability has forced 136 rural hospitals to close between 2010 and 2021, leaving a devastating impact on rural communities.

rural-road

Transportation

Lastly, transportation is another pressing concern in rural medicine. Due to the geographic dispersity of rural areas, residents often have to travel long distances to access the nearest hospital or medical facility. Not to mention, rural areas typically have limited public transportation services, which means that residents must have their own personal vehicle. This is especially challenging for lower-income individuals who can’t afford a car and elderly individuals who may be physically unable to drive.

Transportation barriers not only pose a burden for rural residents but also have significant implications on their health. According to a study by Health Affairs, rural residence is associated with a 40% higher preventable hospitalization rate and a 23% higher mortality rate than urban residence. This can be attributed to the prolonged time taken to travel to healthcare facilities and the high cost of healthcare services, resulting in postponed treatment. However, delayed treatment only worsens the situation, as it leads to sicker patients with more complex conditions that are more expensive to treat.

 

How Telehealth Carts Can Help

Telehealth carts, also referred to as mobile telemedicine carts, can serve as a valuable asset for rural hospitals in treating inpatients. Equipped with HIPAA-Certified Telehealth software, a camera, microphone, and screen, these carts facilitate remote consultations between providers and patients. This technology can prove especially useful in rural areas where access to specialized care is limited.

free teleray telehealth

As per data from the National Rural Health Association, the difference in the number of specialists between rural and urban communities is staggering, with only 30 specialists per 100,000 people in rural areas compared to 263 specialists per 100,000 people in urban areas. What’s more, 65% of rural counties lack a practicing psychiatrist, despite 6.5 million rural residents having mental illnesses. However, with Telehealth carts, these accessibility gaps can be bridged. Telehealth enables patients in acute care facilities to connect with experts as soon as sudden illnesses or conditions arise, significantly improving access to care in emergency situations. 

Not only do Telehealth carts address provider shortages, but they also improve the efficiency of care delivery. For example, if a primary care provider has no training in treating a specific health condition, Telehealth technology can instantly connect the provider with a certified specialist to offer guidance and support. The specialist can even interact directly with the patient to ask questions, review their medical history, examine their symptoms, and recommend a treatment regimen. This enhances the quality of care offered to rural patients while simultaneously reducing the stress and burnout experienced by rural healthcare providers.

landscape-of-hay-rolls

Final Thoughts

Telehealth carts offer a promising solution to help address the challenges facing rural medicine. By leveraging Telehealth technology, rural hospitals can improve access to care, increase efficiency, and enhance health outcomes for rural residents. As we continue to explore innovative ways to reduce healthcare disparities in rural areas, Telehealth carts are a step in the right direction toward healing the heartland.

Explore PDi's Telehealth Carts for Hospitals!

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