While many of us are accustomed to having readily available access to healthcare, that isn’t the reality for many in remote locations. At GlobalMed we know telemedicine can bring care to remote areas, but even with advancements in technology, people in rural and remote locations continue to face limitations in accessing healthcare.
From specialist shortages to long wait times to transportation barriers, many people around the world don’t live near well-equipped hospitals that provide readily available access to care—leaving rural residents to either travel for care or go without the healthcare resources they need.
Four Ways Telemedicine is Improving Access to Care
1. Reducing long wait times.
One of patient’s biggest complaints with healthcare in remote locations is how long it takes for an appointment—leading many to travel to be seen quicker. In many cases, travel is not just a drive to the closest urban center but requires an extended stay in a distant location including many modes of travel to get there.
Africa is facing a dramatic public health crisis – with high communicable and chronic disease rates, maternal mortality, neonatal deaths and a shocking number of HIV/AIDS cases. A primary factor in this crisis is the lack of access to health care. In remote Zimbabwe villages healthcare may be limited to a monthly visit from a nurse whose job it is to see as many patients as possible in a single day. But what happens when someone has an emergency on an unscheduled day? Through the implementation of virtual care, patients can be seen even when a healthcare provider isn’t scheduled to visit their village—removing the potentially lethal long wait time for care.
2. Improving access to specialists.
Rural areas across the world lack specialist care and many patients will travel to areas where their condition is better treated.
In rural South Dakota, patients at Indian Health Services (IHS) lacked access to primary and specialty care causing 130,000 underserved American Indians and Alaska Natives to travel long distances for needed care.
In the Texas Panhandle, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) surgery team decided to tackle the region’s high skin cancer rates by partnering with local clinics in small towns to bring mobile screenings for melanoma to local residents, no travel required.
3. Reducing the cost of care.
In remote areas, receiving care can be more expensive than the cost of traveling and receiving care in more densely populated areas.
In Alaska, many people live in remote areas. To receive needed care, many must travel great distances from their remote villages to Anchorage. Yet care in Anchorage can be 35 percent more expensive than care in the State of Washington—leading many Alaskans to travel even farther for more affordable care. But telehealth can be utilized for several services that would have previously required Alaskans to travel including cardiology, maternal health, endocrinology, and more. By implementing a telebehavioral health program Indian Health Services allowed IHS patients in Alaska to avoid more than 500,000 miles of travel—saving them more than $305,000.
4. Removing transportation barriers.
In remote worksites, transportation barriers can make it difficult for patients to receive access to needed care without traveling.
While Brazilian petroleum giant Petrobas has urgent care nurses on their oil platforms, they can’t always diagnose or judge the acuity of a health problem. This uncertainty meant that illnesses or injury could involve a costly, risky, and often unnecessary helicopter evacuation to a mainland hospital. By conducting telemedicine visits between the urgent care nurses on the production platforms and physicians at the hospitals, employees were able to be treated without requiring costly and risky transportation.
Prisons often need to transport inmates to hospitals or specialty providers for care, with an annual price tag of $90 million nationwide. To manage costs and ensure quality care for inmates, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice implemented a telemedicine solution. By utilizing the telemedicine program, which reduced the need to transport inmates, Texas saved $780 million over 14 years.
Growing Telemedicine Possibilities to Improve Access to Care
Many providers and patients have utilized telehealth for consultations and diagnostic care, but telemedicine is now expanding to improve access to more healthcare needs without the need to travel.
To allow for treatment of serious conditions in remote areas and to continue this advancement of telehealth, it is vital to ensure that technology solutions go beyond a simple video conference and allows for data sharing between providers and EHR integration —increasing patient confidence in the care they are receiving without the need to travel.