Understanding the Connection Between Telemedicine and Rural Area Internet Access

It is no secret that rural communities are struggling with a shortage of medical providers. With fewer specialists, hospitals, and general practitioners to provide healthcare to remote areas, patients may not be able to secure the level of care they need for both acute and chronic conditions.

One of the solutions to this healthcare crisis is rural area telemedicine, which allows doctors to monitor patients as well as consult with colleagues who may be some distance away. Unfortunately, telemedicine may not be the answer for every rural community, thanks to limited internet access and other factors that can prevent patients from receiving the medical care they desperately need.

Why It Matters

Think about why patients may not be able to receive adequate healthcare within their rural areas. Physician retention may be a problem, and what physicians are close by may be pushed to the limits, serving more patients than they may have time to treat.

That leaves some doctors on the verge of burnout and some patients with the choice of going great distances to seek out medical treatment, which in turn costs more for them and takes dollars out of their communities. Patients may have to take off work, or worse, forego preventive care or monitoring until their conditions worsen or become urgent.
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Lack of Infrastructure

While it would be wonderful if every area had the same level of broadband internet service, the reality is that many rural communities are underserved. Part of the issue is inadequate utilities as well as slow internet access.

If broadband providers determine that an area is not profitable, they may not invest in the infrastructure in that community, which in turn limits patients who rely on telemedicine for gaps in their healthcare.

The Issue of Bandwidth

Bandwidth, or the rate at which data can be transferred, can be another factor that impacts rural area telemedicine. Medical software programs and technology may require quite a bit of bandwidth, leading to a slowdown of internet access throughout the community.

Some technology companies recognize this limitation of telemedicine effectiveness and are working to develop new software that does not strain bandwidth or slow internet connections. Until these programs are widely available, however, the issue of speed and other barriers to connectivity may persist.

Seeing the Light

Fortunately, researchers and regulating agencies continue to study barriers to rural area telemedicine and find answers to overcome them. As more healthcare and insurance providers recognize the benefits and cost benefits of telemedicine, they may work together to address slow internet access and infrastructure inadequacies to make access to healthcare easier for rural communities. View our Urgent Care Telemedicine Services