Accessible health care has been a challenge for individuals living in rural and underserved communities for decades -- barriers like transportation, social determinants of health, and the lack of insurance coverage have been major roadblocks in providing rural communities with the access to health care that they need to live longer, healthier lives. While these underserved communities often fly under the radar, it’s important to recognize just how many individuals are at risk because of their lack of available health care resources. In fact, individuals in rural areas have a 23 percent higher mortality rate than urban residents and a much higher rate of readmissions to both inpatient facilities and emergency room visits. The lack of access to specialty care also accounts for a dramatic percentage in what could be preventable hospital visits.
So, how does telehealth play a part in improving patient outcomes for rural populations? In the wake of COVID-19, telehealth has stepped up to the plate, stood its ground, and proven its worth to providers and patients across the country. While COVID-19 continues to be one large hurdle to overcome, it also presents rural communities with a silver lining: surges in telehealth deployment. As efforts and funding for the implementation of telehealth grow in rural areas, it’s presenting health care providers with the opportunity to bring specialized services and accessible health care to these areas in a more affordable manner and that is something we can all get on board with.
The Navajo reservations throughout the southwest region of the United States, an area that frequently goes unnoticed, is a notoriously underserved population. Home to roughly 20 percent of the nation’s Native American population, the Navajo population consistently scores poorly in overall health. In fact, Tribal communities are amongst the poorest and most vulnerable in the United States. On some reservations, life expectancy is lower than in some third world countries because of the lack of resources to access health care.
Not only is the life expectancy of Native Americans much shorter than other Americans, but they are also known to have a significantly higher mortality rate. This alarming statistic also includes higher rates of death from chronic illness, such as diabetes, chronic liver disease, depression, and more. And just to bring to light how bad the general health throughout these communities truly is: Indigenous peoples are likely to die of heart disease at a rate 1.3 times higher than all other races, and diabetes at a rate of 3.2 times higher.
What do these have in common? Both illnesses are reliant on constant monitoring and upkeep, but without access to affordable resources, many of these issues go unseen and untreated. Can telehealth alleviate some of these pains? Does telehealth truly have the opportunity to improve the outcomes for the patients by making health care more accessible?
Now that telehealth is becoming more prominent in rural areas, providers will have the ability to tailor their telemedicine programs to best fit the needs of their patients, while eliminating many of the barriers that make it difficult for these individuals to receive care in the first place.
Though the availability of telehealth services continues to grow, it is not without a few speed bumps along the way. Broadband access has been a constant concern for telehealth implementation. However, 63 percent of rural areas now have access to high-speed internet, and we can anticipate that number to continue to rise. Now more than ever is the time to consider a value proposition for these communities and how telehealth can serve these patients and ultimately lead to longer, healthier lives.
pMD is constantly striving to improve the lives of both patients and providers to make an everlasting impact on health care. Now that telehealth deployments are surging, pMD’s clinical communication and care navigation platforms are creating an environment that allows providers to track the progress of their at-risk patients within these rural communities while ensuring that the communication between themselves and the patient will be seamless.