According to CDC, people in the rural areas of the United States are more likely to die too soon from the five leading causes of death—heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke — in comparison to people in urbanized areas. Let’s talk about the barriers to healthcare access in rural areas
First, people in rural areas are less likely to be tested with chronic conditions.
Health and social inequities have long been observed in rural areas. People needing health care access in rural areas are more likely to be elderly patients with multiple chronic conditions. Higher rates of cigarette smoking, coronary heart diseases, diabetes, and obesity are detected in the rural population, significantly bringing poorer health outcomes over the long term. More often than not, people in rural areas are uninsured as well.
People in rural areas have less access to health care providers.
While 33 providers are available for every 10,000 people in urbanized areas, rural areas only have 13 providers to serve the same patient load. In addition, less than 11% of health care providers practice in rural areas, and its causes are rooted in several factors, including lower salaries, limited training, learning opportunities, and isolation from peers residing in more urbanized areas.
Transportation can be more burdensome to people in rural areas than patients in the urbanized areas.
People in rural areas are more likely to travel long distances to access health care services, especially when acquiring subspecialist services. Even the lack of transportation is a significant barrier to health care, especially for elderly patients with limitations in mobility. Other inconveniences related to travel include additional traveling time, additional expenses, and time away from their home or workplace.
Broadband issues can be a significant drawback in implementing telehealth in rural areas.
COVID-19 brought so much devastation in bringing unprecedented pressure on the healthcare system. With telehealth, access and delivery of health care through mobile phones and computers opened doors in helping reduce barriers to health care for people who live far away from their providers or specialists, people who have transportation or mobility issues. But, unfortunately, the lack of broadband internet availability hinders telehealth success.
Rural areas make up 60 million people from diverse backgrounds in the United States. Yet, despite the efforts to bring an evidence-based understanding of rural health care, most available studies focus more on urbanized areas. The scarcity of evidence-based information creates a misrepresentation that problems with health care do not arise in the urban population. On the contrary, there lies a lack of initiative in innovating health care in rural communities to motivate health equity.
Accessibility of health care services plays a vital key point and a significant consideration to eradicating the barriers in rural health care. Accessibility in health care means having a timely use of personal health services to achieve the best health outcomes. According to Healthy People 2020, the significance of healthcare access lies not only on the physical, social, and mental health status but also on insurmountable value to disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of illness, improved quality of life, and prolonging life expectancy.
Benefits of remote patient monitoring in rural areas
Telehealth has truly revolutionized remote consultation and disease management. Remote patient monitoring, being a telehealth subset, creates access to patients’ vital signs from home between provider consultations. By doing consults remotely, nurses and providers, and even patients in the rural areas decrease exposure to other infectious patients in the hospital. In addition, patients experience less time away from work and more privacy.
How telehealth and RPM help providers in addressing the barriers to healthcare access in rural areas?
Telehealth, as well as remote patient monitoring, has the potential to increase practice revenue and can improve the health care provider’s practice by enhancing clinical workflows. Telehealth can cut down patient costs by reducing hospital visits, reduce patient no-shows, and providers can expand their clinical practice by being able to access more patients with less burden in clinic waiting times. Patients in the rural population are offered quality patient care, especially those with limited access to primary care physicians and specialists.
According to Altarum, a one-size-fits-all approach to healthcare is impossible in rural areas because of inconsistent data. Moreover, some successful interventions that address costly prices in urban settings may not work in rural markets—especially those that attempt to play upon provider and insurer competition or price variation among providers.
Telehealth and remote patient monitoring are promising in the post-pandemic era–68% of providers would still want to utilize telehealth in their practice, and a significant number of providers expressed their desire to continue remote patient monitoring for the following reasons: (1) chronic disease management; (2) improving care coordination; (3) preventative care; and (4) hospital or emergency department follow-ups.
Improving resources according to present demands can be challenging to execute in rural areas. Still, telehealth and remote patient monitoring can help provide better care models that address accessibility issues to improve care quality and lessen costly burdens.