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Telemedicine: Solution to Rural Health Care Shortage?
America has a problem when it comes to health care in rural areas. Although about 20 percent of Americans live in rural communities, fewer than 10 percent of America’s doctors practice in these areas.
The end result of these disadvantages is higher morbidity and mortality rates among America’s rural citizens.
A Growing Malady
The problem facing rural Americans involves barriers that negatively impact their ability to access the resources they need. According to the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, the ability to access health services in a timely and affordable manner has a profound effect on all aspects of an individual’s health.
- Prevent many diseases and disabilities or limit the lasting impact of a disease or potentially disabling event.
- Provide early detection and treatment of illnesses or other health conditions
- Improve a person’s quality of life
- Decrease the likelihood of premature death
- Expand life expectancy through education in making healthy life choices
One proposed method of overcoming the obstacles to proper health care in rural communities is telemedicine.
What Is Telemedicine?
The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology defines telemedicine as health care services provided using technologies in electronic information sharing and transmission. It relies on telecommunication technology for delivering long-distance clinical health care to patients in rural, hard-to-access regions.
Telemedicine services may include health-related education for patients and healthcare providers, public health services and health administration. The term “telehealth” is often used interchangeably with telemedicine. There are two main formats utilized:
- Interactive telecommunications. Audio and video equipment allows real-time, two-way interactive communication between a physician or practitioner and a distant patient.
- Asynchronous store and forward. This is the transmitting of a patient’s medical information from an origination point to the PCP or practitioner in a rural setting.
Providing Health Care to Rural Americans
The Health Resources and Services Administration considers telemedicine a critical factor in providing sufficient health care services, especially specialty care, to rural and remote areas. The use of telecommunication technology can go a long way in filling the gaps left by the shortage of physicians in rural communities.
For example, taking a team approach to health care delivery provides access to health care services from advanced practice nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists, health educators, behavioral health specialists and care coordinators.
Making use of all available health service providers via telecommunication technology can provide screening, counseling, education and preventive care to rural patients. A physician oversees all services, thus giving the doctor more time to focus his skills for maximum benefit to the population being served.