Will telemedicine be the solution to rural health disparities?

In recent years, telemedicine has become a popular answer to growing concerns about health outcomes in rural American — but is this solution feasible?

At present, rural residents in need of specialty care are often asked to drive to hospitals that offer these specialized services, many of which are a distance away. In one program to address this issue, Albuquerque-based University of New Mexico Hospital launched the Child Ready Program, which connects providers from other hospitals in the state with specialized pediatric physicians, in an effort to provide care to children without necessitating the time, money and stress associated with traveling to healthcare facilities outside of their communities.

Although telemedicine offers a potential solution, it relies on broadband service, which many rural areas do not have, according to West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Where Internet access does exist, it can still be difficult to offer enough to meet patient need. At the Bland County Medical Clinic in Bastian, Va., for example, the clinic needed to add an additional IP address; however, installation took six months, because only one Internet provider in the area was able to provide the service.

"We as a nation need to commit to full-scale broadband," David G. Cattell, director of telemedicine for the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, told West Virginia Public Broadcasting. "Broadband is that place where education, economic development and health are interdigitated."

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