Using telemedicine to reverse the decline of community hospitals: 5 thoughts

With community and rural hospitals closing at an alarming rate, access to care has become a major challenge for people with serious conditions who don't live in urban areas, according to a report from the Harvard Business Review.

Many patients living in rural areas with serious health problems end up having to travel considerable distances to urban centers to see a medical specialist, further declining revenues at rural hospitals and clinics. As a result, rural hospitals and clinics downsize even more or close altogether, further limiting patients' options.

The vicious cycle isn't new but the opportunities telemedicine may offer to break the cycle are very innovative.

Highlighted below are five thoughts on the potential impact telemedicine may have on community and rural healthcare providers, as outlined by the Harvard Business Review report.

1. Virtual consultations with physicians and clinicians redistribute access and may reconceptualize how rural hospitals are used by making use of resources in new ways.

2. Telemedicine offers a lower-cost alternative for patients and the increased patient load facilities may experience when they offer virtual care can produce additional annual revenue for the community hospitals and clinics.

3. Offering virtual consultations also impacts the reputations of healthcare facilities by enabling them to offer access to specialists without patients having to travel. The boosted reputations can increase patient confidence in and retention at rural facilities.

4. Despite telemedicine's potential, virtual consultations can only be reimbursed for rural patients, excluding low-income patients in urban areas, and are limited to facilities using technologies with sophisticated data encryption.

5. Problems with technology and skepticism also present barriers for community and rural facilities implementing telemedicine alternatives.



More articles on telemedicine:
American Telemedicine Association doubts success of Congressional telehealth bill
Patients' top 8 telemedicine concerns, benefits
University of Cincinnati to host second annual telehealth conference

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