In rural Wisconsin, physicians say telemedicine isn't growing fast enough

Many physicians say Wisconsin's underserved populations could benefit from telemedicine, particularly as state residents' need for healthcare is expected to increase 20 percent by 2023, Wisconsin Public Radio reports.

However, physicians serving rural areas of Wisconsin say telemedicine isn't expanding as fast as it could be.

"The [federal] government and insurers at times don't consider [a telemedicine visit] a real visit or real healthcare, so they won't pay for it," Ashok Rai, MD, president and CEO of Green Bay, Wis.-based Prevea Health, told WPR. "The investments are difficult for health systems to make, but still needed. I think we're only starting to see the beginning of [telemedicine] in the state of Wisconsin."

Physicians are concerned that rural areas of the state may face a physician shortage. According to the Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine, 28 percent of the state's population live in rural areas, but just 11 percent of its physicians work in these regions.

Telemedicine can play a part in solving this problem by connecting rural residents with physicians from other areas — but concerns about a physician shortage run deeper.

"Telemedicine is an important piece of the puzzle, but even more important is that physician or primary care person in the communities," said Joseph Holt, MD, director of the Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine at the Madison-based University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

"We all have heard stories and know of folks who didn't seek the care they needed because they didn't have a physician, or they didn't have a relationship with a doc that they really trusted. Having doctors in these areas that patients can become comfortable with, that's really the key piece," he added.

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