How to Sustain Access to High-Quality Healthcare in Rural Areas

More Patients Can Turn to Telehealth When Local Hospitals Close Their Doors

Over the last ten years, 113 rural hospitals closed their doors. All of these facilities stopped providing inpatient care, yet some still offer outpatient care, emergency care, urgent care, or primary care. The state of Texas alone has lost 20 rural hospitals since 2010. According to a recent report from Navigant based on CMS data indicated that 21% of rural hospitals are at high risk of closing, including 403 rural hospitals across 43 states.

With so many high-profile closures across the country, millions of patients in rural areas face limited access to high-quality care. Fortunately, telehealth can help expand access to care by connecting patients in rural areas to providers and specialists all over the country.

Why Are So Many Rural Hospitals Closing Their Doors?

Hospitals in rural areas often suffer from an economic downturn, which can tear away at the fabric of local communities. As businesses in rural areas close their doors, local populations begin to decline as residents move away in search of work and new opportunities. This reduces the demand for local healthcare services, resulting in rural facilities losing access to profit and capital that they would otherwise use to invest in new technology. 

Without this extra funding, rural facilities are often at a disadvantage compared to those in wealthier, more populated areas. Lacking the latest technology, rural hospitals begin reducing some of their services, which means more local providers are out of a job, further decreasing the local population.

This completes the cycle as rural hospitals lose more patients and funding, leading to their eventual closure. Hospital closures can have a devastating effect on the local community. A recent study shows the unemployment rate rises 1.6% and per capita income falls 4% every time a hospital closes. 

How Telehealth Can Improve Access to Healthcare in Rural Areas

Without access to a local hospital, patients must travel farther to receive the care they need. The nearest hospital or specialist may be hours away, depending on where the patient is located. This contributes to rising transportation costs for many patients, more time taken off work, and less access to healthcare in rural areas. 

However, patients won’t have to travel as far to receive medical care if they have access to telehealth technology. Telehealth gives consumers the power to consult with care providers remotely, so they don’t always have to travel to see a professional in person. 

Telehealth also increases access to high-quality healthcare. Instead of visiting a local doctor’s office or an urgent care clinic, patients can use this technology to consult with specialists and experienced care professionals that are familiar with their specific condition. In some areas, the nearest specialist may be hundreds of miles away, but telehealth can ease communication between providers and patients. 

When a rural hospital closes its doors, other local hospitals and care centers will likely absorb these patients. These facilities can adopt telehealth technology to expand patient access to care without overwhelming onsite resources. Providers can quickly consult with and diagnose patients remotely without losing sight of their existing patients. They can also use remote patient monitoring to keep up with local patients suffering from various chronic conditions without forcing these patients to leave their homes. 

As more rural hospitals close their doors, patients and providers will need to start looking for cost-effective alternatives. Telehealth can expand access to care without overwhelming local healthcare systems. For more information on the benefits of telehealth and to discover the many ways virtual care can improve patient outcomes in rural areas, visit InTouch Health.

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