The fact that the United States is facing a rural healthcare crisis does not require debate. With hospitals in isolated communities closing and doctors leaving rural areas for better opportunities in cities, the crisis comes at exactly the moment that America’s rural communities need help the most. Despite declining rural populations, there are still over 46 million Americans living in rural areas and these communities not only have to manage everyday health concerns, but have been hardest hit by major public health crises, including the opioid epidemic.
This need for healthcare is complicated by financial issues and regulations that state hospitals are only allowed to operate with a minimum population of 40,000. This presents a challenge in states like Georgia where over two-thirds of the population resides in small towns with populations under this threshold. However, help may be at hand from a trusted friend, the Internet.
Broadband access is essential to practicing telemedicine, which would not only connect patients in rural locations to the care they need, but also allow for services to be consolidated and shared between healthcare providers in disparate locations. People like Indiana state representative Sharon Negel understand the challenges rural areas face with internet connectivity and continue advocating for better internet coverage in rural areas. At a recent event hosted by the Indiana Farm Bureau, Sharon said, “We started talking about how to bring all the pieces together to have statewide coverage. There’s not one simple solution, but a collection of solutions with all of us working as partners.”
Many believe telehealth is one solution, as it connects patients in rural areas without access to care to doctors and specialists in a way that is both economical and efficient. In a recent interview with Casey Rossetti, Regional Grant Manager at Polycom, he said, “Telehealth allows rural physicians to expand their patient base while keeping dollars in the community, contributing to the sense of ‘community’ that small American towns pride themselves on. It’s efficient in terms of costs and time spent traveling for those located far from the nearest healthcare provider, but it’s also an incredibly effective delivery model, resulting in positive outcomes such as lower hospital readmission rates.”
While telehealth has been around for decades, it has not been widely adopted for a variety of reasons including the sometimes prohibitive cost of the technology. “Fortunately”, Rossetti said, “a large number of grants exist for those in need of financial assistance to fund a telehealth program. At Polycom, we have an entire team dedicated to aiding those in need of grant funding and helping candidates throughout the grants process.” Grants may be used for equipment purchases, to modernize IT infrastructure to support telemedicine services and ensure HIPAA compliance, and to pay for service fees associated with the program, Rossetti explained.
Telehealth can transform rural healthcare access for patients that face geographic barriers and their associated healthcare costs, such as transportation, childcare, and taking time off from work. Rossetti concluded, “When you’re living in a rural state with a highly dispersed population, and most specialists reside in metropolitan areas, there will always be issues with geography and distance. For some people with serious health concerns that need to be treated immediately, telemedicine gives them a second chance.”
To learn more about how to fund a telemedicine program like this one, check out Polycom’s eBook on grant assistance and best practices here.