Telemedicine has proven to be a highly effective means of improving care quality and access in rural areas. According to a recent study by the University of Iowa, patients were seen six times more quickly at rural hospitals using telemedicine in their emergency department than in hospitals without a telemedicine program. Many rural hospitals and healthcare systems are currently using telehealth programs in their emergency departments to triage patients, reduce wait times, and extend care into rural or remote areas.
Telemedicine has the ability to replace in-person visits to a physician’s office, an approach that expands access to care. It also reduces the amount of time a patient spends in emergency departments(ED). With the help of the ED physicians on site and an added telemedicine physician, patient care is significantly expedited. Often, on-call doctors cannot arrive immediately to see patients, but through sound and video technology they are available at the push of a button to assess patients and initiate care.
Patients are connected to off-site physicians who can begin ordering labs and other tests before a patient is even taken back to a treatment room so that by the time they get into the room, a lot more information is available. This helps to treat people faster and get that next patient into a room while providing an enhanced patient experience to all who visit the ED.
Rural hospitals that use telemedicine in their Emergency Departments have significantly reduced workforce shortages and the burden on patients who might otherwise have to travel long distances for specialty care. It has enabled patients especially those with critical time-sensitive conditions to have remote consults with specialists (who are mostly absent in rural communities).
Though telemedicine has dramatically improved rural health care, the loss of net neutrality could slow telehealth access. The move to repeal the net neutrality rules could have serious ramifications for telehealth services, particularly in rural and underserved communities. Not all health systems will afford to pay for bandwidth access resulting in a weakened ability to provide quality care.