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Telemedicine Front and Center at the AHA Rural Leadership Conference.

Karen Hinkle

Written by Karen Hinkle

The American Hospital Association (AHA) just held its 32nd Annual Rural Health Care Leadership Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, and it provided an excellent opportunity to speak to individuals living and working in healthcare in those underserved communities.

A Brief Overview of Rural Healthcare Challenges

In November of 2018 Dr. Anand Parekh, the Chief Medical Advisor of the Bipartisan Policy Center said, “Rural America is a little bit older, a little bit sicker, and a little bit poorer.”  These three things, along with their geographic remoteness makes delivering healthcare a challenge. Suburban and urban residents live about 12 minutes and 10 minutes from a hospital respectively.  The most remote of rural residents averaged 34 minutes to get to an acute care facility.

It’s not only distance that concerns rural healthcare professionals, the lack of resources and healthcare providers does as well. This concern includes the difficulty in hiring and keeping these vital professionals. It is obvious there is a serious problem with a shortage of healthcare professionals in the rural community. It is such a problem that there is an official designation for geographies with a shortage of healthcare professionals. Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) are geographic areas that have been designated as having a shortage of medical professionals in primary care, dentistry and/or mental health. Rural patients suffer the most. Of the 6,941 areas designated as HPSA for primary care, over 4,600 are rural.

Key Questions and Takeaways

Some other questions asked during the presentations and key takeaways were,

  • “How do we keep patients as close to home as possible because that’s where they have a support system?”

  • “Often times we find we can support the smaller organizations remotely… through telemedicine.”

  • “Using telemedicine, we can co-manage the patient, keep the bed open and save money.”

And one that really grabbed my attention:

What is your penetration with telemedicine in your practice?

Not enough. 

When discussions turned to telemedicine, comments varied. Many people I spoke to know quite a bit about telemedicine already, but there were even more who thought telemedicine only meant one of two things: video or telephone consultation. After I explained that eVisit’s platform has HIPAA compliant and encrypted video conference capabilities as well as ePrescribe, payment processing, custom branding, waiting room management, EHR integration, and a dedicated Customer Success team, more than once I heard, “I didn’t know you could do that.”

Other top level discussions

  • How the cost of technology is rapidly dropping (Moore’s Law), meaning more rural patients are getting connected;

  • How using a tele-discharge follow-up model with rural patients could lower readmission rates;

  • How telemedicine brings specialists that usually were only available via “a trip to the city” into the community;

  • How the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid improved the reimbursement codes regarding telemedicine;

  • How medical wearables and telemedicine could improve the outcomes of patients with chronic conditions;

  • How Indian Health Services needs to make stable and effective telemedicine available in its rural communities.

The information shared at the conference was insightful and shows the healthcare needs of the rural community are real and being addressed. It makes me feel excited to work in an industry that can offer so much to this community.

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Published: February 12, 2019