A key, rising issue of concern in the United States’ healthcare scenario is the fact that residents of rural areas have very limited access to healthcare. This is an issue that affects groups such as military veterans and more than 560 tribes of Native Americans throughout the country.
The healthcare scenario in Rural America
The situation of healthcare in rural areas is impacted by many factors that are not present in more central, urban areas – these include limited access to broadband internet and to technological arrangements in general, as well as a significantly high patient-to-provider ratio. As per the National Rural Health Association (NRHA), remote rural areas have 39.8 doctors per 100,000 individuals, as compared to the ratio in urban areas, which is 53.3 doctors per 100,000 people.
There are numerous other inequalities in the healthcare system in rural parts of the United States. As per the NRHA, treatment for mental health conditions is extremely low in rural areas. This is because of a lack of available mental health specialists, and a deep-rooted sense of stigma surrounding mental health problems, which prevents patients from seeking help. As a result, suicide is twice as likely among the youth in rural areas.
Remote areas also display a higher prevalence of heart diseases and diabetes; in addition, usage of tobacco is also much higher in rural areas as compared to urban areas. Added to these issues is the fact that the per capita income in rural areas is nearly $9200 less than it is in urban areas. Combined, all these factors point toward a healthcare pandemic in the rural areas of the United States.
Using Telemedicine as leverage
Admittedly, telemedicine is not a panacea that will bring about an end to all the healthcare problems plaguing rural America. However, telemedicine does have the capability to even out the patient-to-physician ratio and improve rural area residents’ access to healthcare. It is a feasible alternative healthcare option for those living in the more remote areas of the United States.
As per a Health Data Management article authored by Greg Slabodkin, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted interviews with Medicaid officials from 6 different states, and the findings revealed that levels of telemedicine use a higher in rural areas as compared to the more urban areas. The auditors from the GAO discovered that in the rural state of Montana, for example, telemedicine is used to connect patients to specialists not only within the state but out-of-state too.