How Telehealth Can Reach the Unreachable
Extending Healthcare to Rural Patients with Live Video and Audio During the Pandemic
With the help of new technology, healthcare providers can use telehealth to connect to patients that were once considered unreachable due to their distance, particularly patients living in remote or rural areas. Instead of driving an hour or more to the nearest doctor’s office, patients can use live video and audio to meet with their doctor remotely from the comfort of their own home. Additionally, many patients prefer receiving care at home so they don’t have to arrange transportation, take time off work, or sit in a car for long periods of time.
The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically altered the healthcare system by advancing innovative telehealth technology into widespread use. Providers need to limit in-person contact with patients to reduce the spread of the virus, so they are switching to virtual care as a way of keeping in touch with their patients during this uncertain time. This applies to both rural and urban patients.
From the chronically ill to those living in rural communities, learn how you can use telehealth to reach patients that were previously beyond your reach.
Reaching Out to Rural Patients During the Coronavirus Pandemic
COVID-19 is considered extremely contagious and has been circulating within the United States for months. While the virus has been mainly concentrated in urban areas thus far, it’s starting to infiltrate rural areas and states as well, and recent data from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that infection rates are rising faster in rural counties than in urban ones.
As the pandemic continues to spread, healthcare providers will need to find ways to reach out to and care for patients in these hard-hit rural areas. When someone experiences flu-like symptoms, they will likely call their local provider for care instructions. The provider will then need to decide whether the patient should risk seeking in-person care, where they could be exposed to the virus, or if they should stay home and self-isolate to limit the spread.
To limit face-to-face contact, the provider may use telehealth to remotely consult with the patient and diagnose their symptoms. This option allows the provider a chance to see and hear the patient in real-time so they can evaluate subtle indicators that may affect their treatment decision. These indicators include the sound of the patient’s voice, how often they cough on camera, and whether they are having trouble breathing.
Keeping Up with Regular Medical Care
Healthcare facilities across the country have had to cancel or postpone all elective procedures to increase capacity for coronavirus patients. These cancellations include everything from regular check-ups to life-saving surgeries and procedures. Yet, millions of Americans are still living with chronic conditions and illnesses that are not related to the coronavirus and continue to need treatment.
Rural Americans also tend to have higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer than their urban counterparts. If these patients fall behind on routine care, including exercise, a healthy diet, checking in with their doctor, and taking their medication, their health could deteriorate rapidly.
Bringing non-virus patients into a facility for medical care may no longer be an option, however, providers can use telehealth to care for and check on non-virus patients during the pandemic without seeing them in-person. Providers can use live video and audio to make sure chronically ill patients are keeping up with regular exercise, taking their medication, and leading a healthy lifestyle during the pandemic.
What About Those without Access to Wi-Fi?
According to the Federal Communications Commission, 19 million Americans lack access to adequate internet service, which accounts for 6% of the entire U.S. population. But in rural areas, nearly 25% of the population (14.5 million people in the U.S.) lack sufficient internet access.
For many patients, using telehealth is still beyond their reach. Many individuals also do not have smartphones, tablets, laptops, or desktop computers at home to access the necessary telehealth applications and software.
When patients cannot access Wi-Fi services at home, they may have to drive to their doctor’s office. Fortunately, when they arrive, providers can continue to practice social distancing measures and can have these patients wait in the parking lot in their cars. Staff members, wearing full protective gear, will then hand out telehealth-enabled tablets to these patients, so they can consult with the doctor without getting out of their car.
Providers, however, may need to expand their Wi-Fi coverage so that the entire parking lot is covered. Drive-up care can help reduce the spread of the virus by limiting person-to-person contact, and providers can still care for patients that do not have access to Wi-Fi without bringing them into the facility.
Patients and providers across the country are using telehealth to make the best of this difficult situation. Contact us to learn about reaching previously unreachable patients.