After the COVID-19 pandemic that struck the world in 2020, telehealth gained another meaning. However, telemedicine already existed before the pandemic and, from 2020 forward, it only came to reveal that there is a possibility to access care from home, if the medical situation in question doesn’t force us to go to a medical facility for in person assistance. Incorporating telehealth in medical practices could potentially mean a life-changing adoption in medicine due to the fact that patients who live in remote areas would have a more accessible reach to medical assistance.
Health inequities between rural and urban areas in the United States and other developed nations is becoming increasingly evident. A combination of a degrading rural economy with a lack of investment for its development that affects not only healthcare, but also education. Besides, the social isolation of rural populations has led to poorer health access and conformism and acceptance of the situation in place. All things considered, it is well documented that rural areas in the US, compared to their urban peers, register higher incidence for the five leading lethal diseases: chronic lower respiratory disease, cancers, unintentional injury, heart disease, and stroke.
Remote monitoring, for instance, could be an answer to a generalized health problem that mostly affects rural areas: lack of access to healthcare and overall medical treatment. This technology enables healthcare providers to remotely track patients’ vital signs, medication adherence, and overall health status, facilitating proactive intervention and preventing potential complications. For those in rural areas where healthcare facilities may be scarce, remote monitoring offers a lifeline, allowing individuals to manage chronic conditions without the need for frequent, arduous journeys to medical centers.
Furthermore, the integration of remote monitoring fosters a sense of empowerment among patients, as they actively participate in their healthcare, fostering a collaborative approach between healthcare providers and individuals in rural communities. Ultimately, remote monitoring bridges the geographical gap, bringing quality healthcare to the doorsteps of those who need it most, revolutionizing the healthcare landscape for rural populations.
Take Maine’s example. The state of Maine uses telemedicine networks, the majority of them being managed by the Maine Telemedicine Services and it provides over thirty community health centers, plus home care services. Additionally, Maine also has a boat as a clinic in order to provide both primary care and specialist appointments to those patients living in islands off the coast of Maine. This example of the American state allows us to have insights on the benefits of telemedicine and how it can, in fact, help patients receive quality healthcare while also ensuring that training and education for providers is given.
Telemedicine in urban areas benefits from the continuous advancements in technology and the educational opportunities to learn from the advantages of implementing it and, therefore, it reaches urban communities way faster than the rural ones. At Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, for example, is the educational opportunity to graduate as a telehealth provider and also as a program leader. The program gives students a solid knowledge and background in the various departments of telehealth. Also, urban areas register the presence of a large number of physicians, compared to rural areas. The abundance of these professionals that practice in urban areas allows the continuity of developing telemedicine and even the choice of incorporating it in their professional lives.
In an attempt to answer the discrepancy between urban and rural areas, telemedicine comes as a new approach to medical encounters between healthcare professionals and patients. Telehealth comprises telemedicine consults, remote monitoring, patient portal access and provider-to-provider communications. Patients that live in rural areas highlight the ability to have virtual appointments and be remote monitored by healthcare providers that might not be located in the same geographical region as them. Despite the existence of limitations to the implementation of telemedicine, not adopting telemedicine as an option should be considered the biggest limitation of them all, especially to those affected in rural areas. Inaccessible healthcare shouldn’t be the norm and patients must have access to a basic human right: their health.