In most rural communities, access to specialists sometimes means traveling long distances, and very often recurring trips for needed care. It can include not only the cost of fuel to travel, but lodging, meals, care for school-age children or elderly family members while away, someone to look after the farm or business, plus sundry other issues. Telehealth can relieve some of those burdens on rural community members by increasing access to specialist via virtual visits.
Telehealth has evolved to provide high-quality and timely care. It also gives rural providers the expertise to oftentimes care for the patient in their own community.
Telehealth can provide other resources in rural communities in addition to accessing specialists. The scope of telehealth services can include regularly scheduled video conferencing for multiple types of chronic illnesses, such as Parkinson’s or diabetes. It can provide afterhours interpretation of radiologic images, remote patient monitoring, and behavioral healthcare, among others.
On the downside, telehealth involves finances, and many rural facilities working with shoe string budgets may find it is cost prohibitive. When considering financial impact to your bottom line, you may want to consider telehealth programs for rural providers, such as the Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program, Telehealth Network Grant Program (TNGP), USAC Rural Health Care Telecommunications Program, USDA Community Facilities Loan and Grant Program, and USDA Distance Learning and Telemedicine Loan and Grant Program (DLT). These programs and others may provide the assistance you need to make telehealth a reality in your community.
Telehealth is an avenue that can provide needed services to rural communities and often has the added benefit of keeping them close to home during a difficult and stressful health care event. (Linda Michel)