Pandemic restrictions may have largely lifted, but one of COVID’s most important healthcare disruptions — telemedicine — has only become more relevant. That’s great news for the nearly 20% of Americans living in rural communities.
Though telehealth technology has positive applications everywhere, it’s especially advantageous for those who are outside of highly populated urban centers. Not only does it provide patients with streamlined, effective rural access to healthcare providers but it enables rural health centers to increase their capabilities. Namely, medical staff members don’t have to be on-location to diagnose and treat patients. Instead, they can conduct high-quality checkups and check-ins from afar, ultimately eliminating most geographic and socioeconomic barriers to healthcare.
Yet despite an upsurge in the adoption of telehealth technology since early 2020, some healthcare providers remain wary of bringing telemedicine to their staff and patient populations. Usually, their hesitance comes from misunderstandings related to telehealth, starting with the assumption that telemedicine is just a video visit — but that view is too narrow.
Done well, telehealth technology has the capacity to cull data from connected medical devices, which can then serve as a springboard for clinical and diagnostic examinations. And because telehealth doesn’t have to include face-to-face interactions, a touchpoint text, remote monitoring, and asynchronous digital communications all allow it to go beyond an initial video visit.
Another point of confusion relates to technology’s role in telemedicine. Healthcare leaders often expect that cumbersome technical interfaces caused by poor internet connections or older devices will get in the way of satisfactory telehealth engagements. Statistics say otherwise. Less than 10% of telehealth obstacles are tech-related. Mostly, they’re due to patients and providers feeling uncertain about using the emerging technology or being slow to adapt to it.
A final telemedicine misconception is that it’s a one-size-fits-all solution. The truth is that every new telemedicine offering should be treated as a new project. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of services available, and each requires a unique workflow. This is actually one of the biggest benefits of telehealth technology.
Expected Outcomes for Rural Healthcare After Telehealth Integration
Rural communities, residents, medical facilities, and providers can expect to see tangible, notable benefits after bringing telehealth technology into their processes. Here are just a few:
1. Expanded reach.
Vulnerable patients with medical concerns and needs don’t just live in crowded cities. They’re scattered around the nation, including in regions that may not have nearby medical facilities.
Telehealth allows those people and their families to receive treatments rapidly. Providers can even make use of FDA-approved devices that integrate with many telemedicine portals and systems. This allows providers to make more informed and objective diagnoses during real-time exams, even if they can’t be in the same room with patients.
2. Advanced clinical outcomes.
Rural patients often find it hard to keep up with their medical appointments, leading them to ignore symptoms or delay care. By eliminating the need for patients to find and use transportation, telehealth melts away objections to seeing the doctor.
In fact, telemedicine gives patients who might otherwise skip visits the ability to take better care of themselves and increase their frequency of healthcare appointments. As a result, patients can get issues identified earlier, which can lead to rapid treatment. A full 91% of patients agree that telemedicine will increase their compliance.
3. Increased patient retention and reimbursement revenue.
Retaining patients and reducing the number of no-shows is important to hospitals and providers. Telehealth makes it simpler to attract and keep patients. Additionally, it can lead to higher reimbursement in the long run.
Providers can block off same-day and after-hours appointment times to see patients virtually. Often, digital-based appointments take less time than traditional appointments, enabling telehealth providers to bump up their visits and, if they’re in a state with telehealth parity laws, to get reimbursed equally for in-person and telemedicine visits.
4. Improved competitive advantage.
Every healthcare provider is looking for an edge. Telemedicine can offer that edge.
Typically, patients and providers who embrace the idea of implementing technology in healthcare feel good about telehealth. As patients have already been convinced that telemedicine is more convenient, they’ll no doubt begin to see it as a “must-have” experience from all providers. Therefore, hospitals and centers that have prioritized the patient-provider digital experience will position themselves as more forward-leaning, efficient, and convenient than competitors.
Integrating telehealth into rural facilities requires careful equipment analysis, operational planning, executive buy-in, provider and stakeholder partnerships, payment model evaluation, staff training, patient education, and other considerations. However, once introduced, telemedicine has the potential to revitalize rural healthcare like nothing medicine has seen in a long time. It’s truly a disruption whose time has come — and just in time to improve and save millions of lives.
AMD Global Telemedicine knows how important telehealth is for rural healthcare providers because we’ve been there. To see our work in action, read about how AGNES Connect helped bring telemedicine to rural Oklahoman clinics.