Everyone in medicine is under financial pressure these days.
For many rural clinics and hospitals, that has meant closing or consolidating. And for people in rural areas, that has meant limited access to care or extremely long drives to receive care. For instance, this article tells the story of a new mom in Missouri who was making regular 200-mile trips to be with her newborn twins in the NICU. Then she’d drive back home to be with her 2-year-old and go to work.
Rural medicine, whether in remote areas or in places like Native American reservations, has always come with its unique joys, gifts, and challenges. But the more medicine evolves, the greater the pressure on these rural providers and hospitals seems to be.
The New York Times reports, “At least 85 rural hospitals — about 5 percent of the country’s total — have closed since 2010.”
One doctor commenting on the article describes the situation from his viewpoint: “The main issue I’ve seen working in health care is consolidation of smaller systems into larger collectives. Smaller rural hospitals are bought by the larger systems, which in turn buy out practices, and end up owning everything in a three to five county radius — sometimes more. The system shunts patients to their main facilities and either closes or cuts back on services offered at the smaller hospitals. It’s not surprising, because it is a balancing of limited resources in a for-profit system, but it does leave the most vulnerable without access to care.”
Certainly, these pressures are a reality. And many providers and patients are dealing with that reality on a daily basis. But these articles also led us to wonder whether there are other solutions to these challenges, beyond the 200-mile drive to care for a newborn.
We’ve worked with many providers, clinics, and hospitals in remote areas who find that by using telemedicine, they’re able to dramatically expand their offerings and capabilities, while decreasing costs.
For instance, with hybrid store-and-forward telemedicine, even a more bare-bones staff is able to get consults on cases that they’d normally have to send to a much larger care center, many hours away. Furthermore, the staff is able to coordinate care for patients so that they may be able to avoid unnecessary visits to distant centers.
So although telemedicine can't fix everything — a woman in labor still usually needs a maternity ward that's closer than 100 miles from her home — there are creative ways of working within these new constraints. And telemedicine, care coordination, and medical collaboration are three tools that may help.
To learn more about hybrid store-and-forward telemedicine and how it can help in rural settings, download our free guide: