Report: Telemedicine provides cost-effective alternative to rural hospital closures

As rural hospitals continue to close across the country, communities in need of healthcare services may turn to more cost-effective alternatives such as telemedicine, according to a report out of the College Station-based Texas A&M Rural and Community Health Institute.

The report — titled "What's next? Practical suggestions for rural communities facing a hospital closure" and sponsored by the Episcopal Health Foundation — examines rural hospital closures and alternative healthcare resources. The findings may prove particularly relevant for Texas A&M University's surrounding community, as more than 15 percent of all U.S. rural hospital closures since 2010 have occurred in Texas.

Researchers suggested community leaders facing an impending hospital closure ask residents where they access healthcare services. Leaders can use this information to inform how at-risk hospitals develop alternative, cost-effective modes of healthcare delivery, such as converting a former facility into a freestanding emergency room or engaging with mid-level providers and community health workers.

Another alternative to traditional hospital care is expanding telemedicine services, the report states. These services may provide patients with 24/7 access to primary, follow-up and specialty care.

"One of the reasons for closure is the limited range of service that has been/can be rendered by the small number of providers at a rural facility," according to the report. "If the providers in a community could address the needs of a wider range of patients, it is possible that a larger number of individuals would seek their care at that site."

Click here to view the full report.

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