Evolution of Telemedicine in Rural Areas

telemedicineTelemedical advances in rural areas have proven to be extremely beneficial in terms of cost, efficacy, and quality. With today’s advanced technology that is so much more affordable and accessible than it was 20 years ago, rural areas can benefit from telemedicine just as well as urban areas.

In the past, health personnel were required to travel on a personal basis in order to see patients with medical issues that they could not treat at their location. Current day improvements in communication tools allow for medical professionals to conduct consultations over video chats or through audio sessions. In these cases, one does not need direct contact with the patient except for the initial connection between doctor and patient through a web portal where real-time streaming takes place. This allows doctors based in one location to assess patients in another. This evolution of telemedicine is a perfect example of how the use of technology advances patient care across rural and urban areas alike.

However, there are still many roadblocks when it comes to healthcare accessibility  in rural areas, and we want to shine a light on some of these pain points, including how the telemedicine industry is striving to resolve such issues.



Roadblocks to Serving Telemedicine to Rural Communities 


Roadblock #1:  Telemedicine Accessibility

Accessibility problems also cause problems for health care professionals trying to reach rural locations where the population may be widely dispersed over several counties. This can become problematic as some providers may only be able to offer consultations on a certain day one week out of every month.

Telemedical providers are aware of this problem, which is why they seek out partnerships with other companies and organizations such as cell phone and internet service providers who can help to cover higher costs. However some healthcare professionals believe that these partnerships only go so far, or do not go far enough in improving accessibility issues for rural communities.


Roadblock #2: Bandwidth Limitations

While there have been improvements made in terms of internet speeds and availability since the evolution of telemedicine began, one major drawback remains: bandwidth limitations. When discussing innovation including telemedicine options with a large health insurance provider it has been reported that 44% of their patients had rejected a doctor visit because of “bandwidth limitations”. In order for telemedicine services to be most effective and reliable there must be high bandwidth service available in rural areas.


Roadblock #3:  Remote Diagnostics

One of the most important aspects of telemedicine is its ability to provide patients with remote diagnostics, allowing them to receive information about their conditions from professionals located outside their local area. This evolution has taken place over a period of time and continues to evolve as medical technicians continue to develop new technologies that will allow clinicians and doctors to remotely access patient data. These technologies are being utilized by health insurance providers in an effort to offer lower cost options for healthcare coverage which enables many people in low income brackets access to the care they might otherwise not have been able to afford. 


Roadblock #4: Cost

There are a number of roadblocks that have prevented telehealth services from becoming more widespread. Currently, the cost of these technologies is still preventing some medical professionals from making the switch to telemedicine; however, this evolution has already taken place in other industries and those involved with healthcare are now coming around to its value.

In addition to the costs associated with purchasing new technology, there are also operating expenses associated with providing customers access to their providers through remote diagnostics portals. This evolution will not be able to reach its full potential until all roadblocks have been removed and it can become an integral part of everyday practices for professionals across the board as it continues going forward into the future.


Roadblock #5:  Telemedicine Technology

The evolution of telemedicine will continue to evolve until more professionals across the board are able to make the switch from traditional methods of communication and patient interaction to remote diagnostics portals. When this evolution takes place, there are certain roadblocks that may stand in its way of reaching full potential. One major roadblock standing between this evolution and its full potential is technology. While technologies like smartphones have begun becoming integral parts of our everyday lives they are not yet perfected.


Roadblock #6:  Privacy/Secrecy

In addition to technology, there are other roadblocks that may prevent telemedicine from becoming more widespread. One of these roadblocks is privacy and secrecy. Privacy concerns come from the fact that telehealth can make medical information vulnerable to ease interception by others who could use that information for mispurposes, whereas telehealth enthusiasts would argue this as a risk worth taking because of its potential to serve unmet healthcare needs and improve cost-effectiveness.  As telemedicine continues to advance over time, however, we will see even greater steps being taken towards ensuring patient’s data is protected through encryption and other methods; However, there will always be doctors and physicians who are resistant to this technology.


Roadblock #7:  Telemedicine Skepticism

Last but not least, there is skepticism. While telemedicine can benefit both practitioners and patients alike, there are still skeptics out there that believe it may not be as valuable as proponents purport and that telehealth providers will have difficulty competing with traditional practices.  Some concerns include possible misdiagnoses, lack of continuity of care, patient preference for face-to-face contact, legal liability for doctors who provide online medical advice and quality control issues when third parties send images for interpretation. However, much like the privacy and secrecy roadblock, the telemedicine industry is constantly working on these roadblocks and has already made significant stride towards overcoming them as evidenced by growth in telehealth services such as online on-demand medical consultations.  Skepticism will also continue to exist until telehealth has reached its full potential, but even then, there is no guarantee that the doubts will completely go away for some medical professionals.



The Future of Telemedicine in Rural Areas


The evolution of telemedicine has not yet reached its peak, but the future looks bright for rural communities across the country.  Telehealth is anticipated to reach its full potential as physicians, healthcare providers, patients, and telehealth companies continue working together over time.  As technology continues to evolve, privacy and security concerns will be addressed which will in turn decrease disapproval from medical professionals.  Hopefully, as telehealth progresses forward and continues to evolve, we will see more rural communities become the benefactors of medical advances made over time; especially since telehealth is anticipated to provide increased access to care for people who live in rural or remote areas of the country.

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