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How Telehealth is Affecting Rural Hospitals

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Rural hospitals face multiple challenges in providing care to their patients. Issues such as reliable transportation, an inability to find staff willing to work in their area, and a general lack of resources compared to urban centers can impact patient care. These challenges aren’t insurmountable, and healthcare organizations can help mitigate them by turning to telehealth.

November 2019 report from Deloitte on narrowing the rural-urban health divide tells the story of a girl named Martina in Nebraska. She was born with a collapsed lung in a rural hospital unable to provide her the specialized care she needed onsite. Rather than whisk Martina away for an expensive helicopter ride to another facility, she received top-of-the-line care from remote doctors at other facilities.

Because the hospital had joined a virtual healthcare organization, her parents received guidance from a NICU doctor via video conferencing. The hospital eventually released Martina, happy, and healthy as could be. 

A 2019 fact sheet from the American Hospital Association revealed that telehealth usage in all hospitals has grown over seven years from 10% to over 76%. It’s also popular — statistics show that 83% of patients surveyed preferred telehealth to in-person care. It’s a solution that’s becoming easier to implement, and more and more hospitals are turning to telehealth, even those in rural areas. Let’s take a closer look at how telehealth is affecting rural hospitals for the better.

Telehealth saves money.
One of the main advantages of implementing telehealth is the cost savings hospitals see after using it. Transportation costs go down, as patients no longer need to be shuttled from remote areas. They also won’t need to travel long distances to receive excellent care — all they need is a working internet connection. There’s a decrease in lost wages, as patients will be able to receive care much quicker and therefore hasten their return to work.

From a staffing standpoint, telehealth offers cost savings to the medical group, as well. Rather than employing costly experts in specialized fields, telehealth can give hospitals and patients access to these providers at a fraction of the cost.

Telehealth can also help drive profits for local laboratories and pharmacies. By accessing input and diagnoses from providers out of the area, rural patients still have access to their local pharmacies and labs for medication and testing.

Finally, telehealth will help hospitals and healthcare providers increase efficiency by leading to fewer canceled appointments. With more options for care, patients will have less reason to neglect to show up for a scheduled appointment. Being an excellent option for the patient, it’s great for the medical group as well since it won’t waste the provider’s time.

Patient satisfaction will go up with the use of telehealth.
Telehealth opens up a world of opportunity for your patients. They will have access to more experts, more voices, and more opinions than if they were limited to their geographic area options. The range of services and care they can receive increases exponentially.

The benefit here is that patients will be more satisfied with the quality of care they receive. More satisfied patients lead to better word of mouth, leading to more revenue for the healthcare organization.

Chronic diseases are easier to monitor.
What happens in the event of an outbreak or the presence of chronic diseases in a rural area? The broader public health reaction may take longer if it occurs in a remote location. With telehealth, not only will healthcare providers know about a potentially chronic disease, but state and local public health officials will know sooner as well-leading as better, more informed emergency response measures.

The CDC reports that telehealth is an excellent mechanism for providers to monitor chronic health conditions like heart and lung disease. Ultimately, this leads to improved outcomes as healthcare organizations in the affected area can get help managing the disease.

Telehealth can assist with the response to outbreaks as well. The CDC has also pointed out telehealth’s usefulness to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, as it keeps providers and patients safer while still providing care.

Telehealth reduces physician burnout.
According to one study, 20% of the nation’s population inhabit rural areas, but fewer than 10% of the country’s physicians are located in these localities. That makes the potential for provider shortages a distinct possibility for rural hospitals in these areas. It also could lead to physician burnout, as they attempt to overcompensate for the lack of workforce in their region. Telehealth moves some burden onto remote providers, assuaging burnout issues. Telehealth essentially creates a virtual support system.

Your organization’s capacity to provide care increases with telehealth.
When more patients are seen due to telehealth, it leads to better outcomes, and perhaps more importantly, faster results-freeing up valuable hospital space in beds. When patients have more healthcare options that don’t require an in-person presence, they won’t necessarily have to visit their local hospital for a non-emergency. Telehealth allows the hospital to focus on in-person care for emergency issues while allowing non-emergencies to receive care on their own time at their own convenience.

There are multiple benefits for rural hospitals to incorporate telehealth.

Ultimately, telehealth helps rural hospitals:

  • Save money,
  • Improve patient outcomes,
  • Monitor chronic diseases in a way that helps manage public health outcomes,
  • Reduce the burden on physicians, and
  • Increase their organizational capacity.

Telehealth increases both provider and patient flexibility for your entire healthcare organization. Whether you currently have a telehealth solution that could use optimizing or are looking for full support of your telehealth needs, VISTA can help. We offer a comprehensive telehealth platform that can help revolutionize the way you communicate with your patients. For more on how to get started, contact us today.

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