By Jim Reilly, Vice President, Healthcare Division

According to the Chartbook on Rural Healthcare, part of the National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report, people living in rural areas experience lower-quality care and have worse outcomes than residents of larger, more metropolitan areas. In fact, compared with metropolitan areas, people living in rural areas received a lower quality of care in over 30 percent of measures, including effective treatment, healthy living, care coordination, and access.

Rural counties tend to have a shorter supply of healthcare providers per capita. This is especially true for specialist providers, such as neurologists, anesthesiologists, and psychiatrists. Since rural residents often live farther away from healthcare resources, the burden of accessing the care they need falls to them, adding transportation, and the time and expense associated with traveling to healthcare providers and specialists, to the growing list of healthcare disparities for those living in rural regions.

Nearly one in five Americans live in rural areas and depend on their local hospitals for care, but in recent years, those hospitals have been closing at growing rates. Additionally, with the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, people are less likely to travel to hospitals and risk being exposed to the virus for follow-ups and routine procedures.

Closing Care Gaps with Telehealth

The need to close gaps in care in rural America is clear. The solution? Technology.

Across the country, telehealth solutions are helping to close gaps in care in areas where healthcare consumers would otherwise face considerable challenges. Especially in rural regions, telehealth has allowed patients to overcome access barriers at a low cost, helping to drive health equity in areas that have limited capabilities.

Pennsylvania, along with two other states as of early September, have started with a new initiative called the Rural Health Model. The model was designed in partnership with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI). Under this model, CMS and other participating payers pay participating rural hospitals on a global budget—a fixed amount, set in advance–to cover all inpatient and hospital-based outpatient items and services.

Participating rural hospitals are working to redesign the delivery of care for their beneficiaries, to improve quality of care and better meet the health needs of their local communities.

The goals of improving the health of beneficiaries in rural areas, maintaining access to health care for rural populations, and determining the impact of an alternative payment model on rural providers, who have generally had lower rates of participation in alternative payment models. This can be done through remote patient monitoring (RPM).

RPM can deliver a physician virtually into a patient’s home. It can give patients access to mental and behavioral health services without having to travel. It can connect patients with physicians and specialists who are many miles away. It delivers preventative care measures that can help prevent acute health events and reduce the need for emergency room visits. According to statistics from the American Medical Association and Wellness Council of America, almost 75% of all doctor, urgent care, and ER visits would be classified as either unnecessary or managed safely and effectively when handled by telemedicine.

For the people living in rural areas, an RPM solution means convenient and timely access to quality healthcare. Additionally, built-in education tools allow patients to learn about their condition, get involved in their treatment, and feel empowered to make decisions about their healthcare. Patients feel more connected, cared for, and have a greater peace of mind knowing that they have round-the-clock access to healthcare no matter where they live.

For the providers, it means improved patient outcomes and reduced staffing and hospitalization costs. Providers can build patient volume without increasing overhead. They can access powerful, real-time data to make informed decisions faster. They can set hours of availability, chart, and prescribe over the remote platform. Any time that remote patient monitoring can be put in place, it reduces costs. Thirty-three percent of providers reported experiencing “significant cost savings” through remote telehealth services.

Technology and rural health go hand in hand. With telehealth solutions, we harness the power of technology to close crucial gaps in care, bringing much-needed access and improving the lives of the medically underserved rural populations across the country.

Jim Reilly is Vice President of the Healthcare Division at Connect America. Headquartered in Bala Cynwyd, PA with regional offices nationwide, Connect America offers a growing portfolio of leading medical alert systems, remote patient monitoring, and medication management solutions. With products and services designed to improve patient outcomes and contain the rising costs of healthcare, Connect America has been partnering with Medicare Advantage, Area Agencies on Aging, managed care organizations, home care, hospitals and many other healthcare organizations to deliver cutting-edge healthcare technologies to patients and individuals nationally for more than 35 years.

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