Telehealth Aids Rural Healthcare

by | Mar 25, 2021

Americans living in rural areas are disproportionately affected by the lack of quality healthcare service. With higher rates of preventable diseases and worse health outcomes than the 57 million Americans living in urban areas1. At the same time, rural physicians are challenged by workplace shortages and thin margins. To further compound this prevalent issue, in the past decade, 120 rural hospitals have closed. Of these, 39 were designated critical access hospitals, intended to keep essential services in rural areas3. These persistent issues can be solved through technology and the increase in home health.

If COVID-19 has demonstrated anything, it was the healthcare community’s ability to rapidly implement telehealth alternatives. In the last week of March 2020, telehealth visits increased by 154%4. For Medicare beneficiaries, nearly half of all primary care visitors in April were a direct result of COVID5. The use of telehealth services was further supported by emergency presidential declarations lifting the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services’ geographic or site of service requirements. With this change, CMS was able to add 135 services to their telehealth services list. This increase in telehealth adoption shows the openness to telehealth options, previously not seen.

In rural settings, telehealth is a particularly attractive solution to the challenges healthcare faces. As rural communities lose healthcare providers, telehealth is uniquely positioned to supplement limited resources6. Telehealth also opens the door to more efficient home healthcare and remote patient monitoring, which increases favorable patient outcomes.

With remote patient monitoring (RPM), a patient’s condition can be monitored outside of the hospital through telehealth and digital devices to facilitate patient engagement and inform better treatment decisions. Physicians receive continuous data on patient conditions and can encourage patients to modify behaviors and take ownership of their healthcare journey7. Typically, patients can make positive behavioral changes while under hospital care but fail to maintain a health care plan when they return home. Using telehealth in combination with RPM can significantly improve a patient’s quality of life and reduce the risk for future hospitalizations.

Before the public health crisis, home-based care delivery was in stages of experimentation but lacked consensus about what was reimbursable at home8. This changed as payers, providers, and patients became aligned in favor of home-based care. While not all changes have been permanent, it will give providers the ability to strategize how care is delivered in a post-COVID environment8.

The widespread adoption and support of telehealth and RPM measures have shown that effective, efficient care can still be delivered in a home care setting. Not only does it make healthcare more effective, but it also makes it more accessible to the rural communities desperately in need of healthcare resources.

Sources:

  1. https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/press-releases/trump-administration-announces-initiative-transform-rural-health
  2. https://www.chartis.com/forum/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/CCRH_Vulnerability-Research_FiNAL-02.14.20.pdf
  3. https://www.ruralhealthinfo.org/topics/critical-access-hospitals
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6943a3.htm
  5. https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2020/07/28/hhs-issues-new-report-highlighting-dramatic-trends-in-medicare-beneficiary-telehealth-utilization-amid-covid-19.html
  6. https://www.chcs.org/news/telehealth-in-rural-america-disruptive-innovation-for-the-long-term/
  7. https://www.homecaremag.com/february-2021/rpm-reduce-unnecessary-hospitalizations
  8. https://medcitynews.com/2021/01/the-home-health-landrush-getting-ahead-in-a-complex-market/?rf=1