Physicians have been trying to reduce disparities in healthcare for years, but there has never been an easy solution. Particularly in rural and underserved areas, patients’ health suffers from limited availability of physicians and, respectively, healthcare. Without proper access, millions of patients are left with low-quality healthcare and suffer from worse outcomes as a result.
Fortunately, the growing adoption of telemedicine can help physicians address this issue. By integrating telemedicine into their practices, physicians can broaden their scope and reach patients around the world.
Health Disparities in Underserved Communities
Consider how you chose your physician - was proximity a factor in your decision? For most patients, their pool of healthcare provider options is based on their geographic proximity. Patients living in privileged and urban areas have a vast array of options, ensuring they have access to quality and affordable healthcare. But, for patients in different circumstances, the same is not true.
Patients living in rural or underserved areas have significantly fewer options when it comes to their healthcare, considerably impeding their access to quality care. Many patients don’t have the means to travel great distances for quality care or a specific specialist. Consequently, they may settle for inadequate care nearby or simply go without. As a result, these patients suffer from worse outcomes than patients who have access to proper care.
Unfortunately, the majority of patients living in these areas are minorities. Across 27 specific health measures, Black health outcomes are worse than those for White patients for 70% of measures. Patient outcomes only continue to decline for Native Americans and Hispanic patients. Consequently, the inequity in healthcare is worsened when race is a factor, and it’s not surprising that geographic location coincides with these patients.
So, how do physicians address these healthcare disparities? Healthcare providers can’t just open a practice in every rural town - there simply aren’t enough doctors to do so. Even if there were, the sparse populations of these areas wouldn’t have enough patients to sustain a new practice even if they did relocate. So, to address these issues in healthcare inequity, providers have to think outside of the box. How can providers spread their reach to patients in relatively inaccessible areas? Well, telemedicine is the solution.
Remote Care via Telemedicine
The main problem with rural and underserved communities is that they suffer an insufficient supply of physicians. For patients to get the care they need, particularly if they require a specialist, they must travel considerable distances. Doing so may require time off of work, childcare, transportation, and the time and cost of travel itself.
Even if patients can make it to one appointment, those requiring ongoing care may not have the means to meet their provider on a regular basis. Consequently, many patients simply don’t have the ability to travel to see the physicians they need. That is - until telemedicine entered the picture.
The defining characteristic of telemedicine is its remote capabilities. Through telemedicine, patients can receive care remotely, eliminating the issue of inaccessibility. Patients can meet with their providers from any location, drastically increasing their ability to get the care they need. Patients can communicate with their physician via a telehealth platform. On this platform, patients can video conference, view EHRs and scans, receive prescriptions, and more. Furthermore, telemedicine is shown to be much more efficient than in-person care, saving patients time without compromising the quality of their care.
Telemedicine takes nearly all of the hurdles out of receiving proper care. Isolated patients can connect with healthcare providers from across the world, drastically reducing the need for transportation or flexible schedules to receive care.
With the ability to get this care from the comfort of one’s home, as long as patients have internet access - they have a doctor. However, unfortunately, many of the patients who would benefit most from telemedicine are the same ones without access to the proper technology or digital literacy. Still, the availability of telemedicine is a momentous step in the right direction.
In addition to remote care, telemedicine opens both patients and providers up to a global healthcare network. In the past, patients requiring care from a specialist typically had to travel to connect with their doctor, sometimes even needing to get on a plane. After all, niche specialists are few and far between, particularly for patients seeking the highest quality of care. Fortunately, access to a remote healthcare network significantly simplifies this dilemma.
Within the telehealth network, patients can easily access providers of all specialties. Within a patient’s case are EHRs, scans, medical images, and all other relevant information. Once a patient finds a provider they wish to connect with, they can request a consultation from this physician. Once approved, the physician will receive the patient’s case file, providing them with all the information needed to make a diagnosis or treatment plan. Once in contact, the two can quickly begin communication, ensuring that the patient has timely and accurate care.
Even for patients that don’t necessarily need a specialist, this network allows them to connect with physicians outside of their geographic area. Those seeking a primary doctor or pediatrician can find one in any location that meets their needs - both in terms of care and insurance.
Insurance is another significant component of closing the healthcare inequity gap. Even if patients have a local provider that they could meet with, if that provider does not accept their insurance, they’re still essentially inaccessible. But, with telemedicine, patients can find providers that offer quality and affordable care. With more options for providers, patients can ensure that they find a physician that meets all of their needs.
Closing the Gap with Telemedicine
While there is still a long way to go in terms of closing health inequity, telemedicine can significantly reduce these disparities. Through telemedicine, patients can get access to quality care from anywhere in the world without the hurdles of meeting with their provider in person. The mere aspect of having access to healthcare providers can considerably improve patient outcomes for those who have gone too long without adequate access to care.
Whether living in an underserved area, immobilized, or simply busy, telemedicine is opening the door to healthcare for millions of patients across the globe. Patients can meet with providers regularly and consistently, as well as get the treatment and medication necessary to heal - all from the comfort of their homes.
As telemedicine adoption rates continue to soar, so will patient outcomes. With the right telehealth platform, healthcare practices can significantly broaden their scope of care, one day ensuring that all patients will have access to the care they deserve.
If you're interested in learning more about telemedicine, book a demo of our platform today.