Telehealth is one of the major components of the national health care reform plan that utilizes digital technology to provide healthcare services. The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) defines telehealth services as “the strategic use of Internet-based and wireless technologies, such as video conferencing, telemonitoring, satellite imagery, and long-distance patient care” (American Telemedicine Association).
Telehealth services can improve rural communities’ health by increasing access to care and providing support to more patients. Telehealth can connect specialists and health care providers with the patients who need them most while expanding available medical resources beyond those found locally.
It is difficult for rural Americans with little access to these technologies to receive the necessary healthcare services. The ATA identifies several barriers to the rural use of telehealth services, including a lack of access to broadband Internet and the computer technology necessary to use telehealth services. The other major barrier is access to health information technology. Providing rural Americans with efficient access to health information technology is vital to developing telehealth services in rural areas.
According to the ATA, telehealth services can significantly decrease travel time and costs associated with receiving healthcare. Many rural patients require the use of health care services at distant hospitals. This can be extremely costly for rural Americans, who often have lower incomes than urban Americans and travel further distances to seek healthcare. Rural Americans are forced to choose between paying for transportation costs or paying for health care services.
Telehealth services can give rural Americans access to health care at a lower cost than in-person services. In addition, telehealth services can help fill gaps in the efficiency of hospital services, as accessing a doctor via video conference can allow patients to receive the attention or care they need more quickly.
Rural communities face numerous challenges to health care. Health care providers often lack the resources and specialists needed to meet the population’s needs. In recent years, rural hospitals are increasingly closing their doors due to financial and structural challenges, leaving patients with fewer medical options. Telehealth and telemedicine offer many benefits that can disrupt these negative trends.
Providing access to computer technology is another barrier preventing the use of telehealth services in rural areas. Many rural Americans cannot access broadband Internet and computers because they do not have the necessary computer technology at home.