For people living in major metropolitan areas across the U.S., access to quality physicians and specialists may seem as commonplace as access to a supermarket, bookstore or shopping mall. Hospitals, doctor’s offices and healthcare systems abound, all with quality doctors who specialize in a wide range of medical fields.
However, if you live in a rural area of our country, access to a broad range of quality medical services may not be as guaranteed.
Ultimately, doctors and specialists tend to be found in higher concentrations around major cities. In fact, some statistics place the percentage of doctors serving in rural areas at under 10 percent. This means that patients living in rural areas often have to travel great distances to see a specialist.
In emergency situations where care needs to be administered quickly, this can lead to extremely expensive ambulance trips. Often complications or a decrease in quality of life result due to the extra time needed to get a patient to the medical expertise that was required.
The situation can be equally difficult in the case of chronic conditions that require continued care and frequent check-ups. The repeated travel for follow-up appointments can put a significant strain on patients and their families and quickly deplete their checkbook.
To help combat this problem, states with large, rural areas are turning to today’s video teleconferencing (VTC) solutions in telemedicine implementations. These solutions enable doctors and specialists to visit patients and make diagnoses from any location via video, regardless of the distance separating them from the patient. This eliminates the problems created by the lack of medical resources in rural areas and ensures that everyone, everywhere can have access to quality care.
There have recently been very good examples of states embracing telemedicine in the news. The first comes courtesy of the State of Indiana, where one quarter of the children live in a rural area.
According to a recent article in the Indianapolis Star, the Indiana Rural Health Association is establishing the Indiana Telehealth Network, a statewide initiative designed to bring broadband access and telehealth to area hospitals.
Utilizing the network, hospitals in urban areas are conducting virtual medical visits online with patients in rural areas. This has decreased the time between referrals and appointments for rural patients and eliminated costly and inconvenient travel. It’s also eliminating the isolation that previously impacted the continued professional development and training of doctors in rural areas, effectively improving the quality of care available nearby.
The other example of beneficial telemedicine initiatives comes from South Carolina.
According to a recent press release by Polycom, the South Carolina Department of Mental Health has decided to expand the telepsychiatry consultation program for community hospital emergency departments it first implemented in 2010.
The program, which utilizes Polycom VTC solutions, originally launched in 15 hospitals, where it enabled psychiatrists to conduct more than 12,100 rapid consultations with patients in hospital emergency departments. The program’s ability to improve the quality of care being given to mental health emergency patients and simultaneously save the state budget dollars has been the driving force for the expansion.
Prior to the program’s implementation, the average mental health emergency-department admittance resulted in a five-to-six day hospital stay. Following the implementation, 43 percent of patients are discharged the same day they enter the hospital. The early psychiatric intervention enabled by the program has also helped increase adherence to post-hospitalization outpatient care programs by nearly 200 percent. The end result is a reduction in the cost per treatment episode by over $1,800 for a total taxpayer savings of more than $21.7 million.
Thanks to today’s advanced VTC solutions, quality medical care is no longer restricted to those that live in urban areas. By delivering doctors and specialists via video, we can expedite care while making it more accessible and convenient.