According to the National Rural Health Association, 19.3% of America’s population lives in rural areas, yet only 11.4% of physicians practice in those locations, and the number of physicians per 10,00 residents in rural areas is 60% lower than in rural areas (13.1 vs. 31.2). The relative number of specialists is even lower, at 30 per 100,000 people – 89% lower than for urban populations.
When you also consider that rural areas tend to have a higher elderly population rate, and a higher rate of chronic disease, it’s not surprising that that 26% of rural patients say that, at some point in recent years, they have been unable to get health care when they’ve needed it. With the country already facing a shortage of medical professionals, the fact that some rural hospitals have closed makes it even harder to patients in those areas to receive care.
Not surprisingly, rural adults point to improved access, better quality of care, and lower costs as top healthcare priorities. Combined with the existing challenges, it points to connected health as a way to improve healthcare delivery and outcomes in rural America. In fact, almost a quarter of rural adults have already used telehealth services for a variety of needs, including diagnosis and/or treatment of a variety of conditions, and prescriptions. Even more important is that the overwhelming majority of rural telehealth patients are satisfied with their experiences, which bodes well for connected health emerging as a solution to many of the challenges rural patients are facing.
Connected health services allow patients to receive care from primary care providers, specialists, and even emergency care services, regardless of location. Despite the distribution of providers being lower in rural areas, telehealth can eliminate the challenge of access using video, voice, and even text-based consultations or follow-ups. Connected health also makes it easier for physicians to consult specialists or other colleagues – including sharing patient data – driving more timely advice and treatment for patients, and better outcomes thanks to having access to the right professionals.
More than two-thirds of rural patients who have used telehealth services say it was the most convenient option for care. Other reasons include not being able to get an appointment with their regular physicians or difficulty in getting to in-person appointments. Elderly patients, parents with young children, working adults, and just about anyone else may experience difficulties scheduling or getting to appointments. Telehealth relieves the burden of travel and allows patients to receive virtual care at convenient times, from home, the office, or nearly anywhere.
Commuting costs can add up quickly, particularly when patients have to travel long distances to receive care or have to make recurring trips for readings to be taken. Connected health provides an immediate cost benefit to patients because it eliminates commuting costs. Remote patient monitoring, in particular, can have a significant impact because readings can be taken and appended to patient records digitally, eliminating the need to recurring regular visits. There is also the possibility that rates for telehealth visits are lower than for in-person visits, providing an additional source of savings. There is also the potential for longer term cost savings due to higher patient-physician engagement rates that keep both sides more informed, helping address many health issues earlier, when they are easier to manage.
In addition to addressing the immediate healthcare needs of rural patients, by making care more accessible and convenient, connected health has the potential to generally increase patient awareness of health issues and their use of healthcare services. The longer term impact is a healthier society and a reduced costs to the healthcare system overall, as well as a reduced burden on individual providers.
To find out more about how connected health solutions can help you increase the convenience and quality of care to patients, visit us here.