Technology could help address America’s rural healthcare crisis, argues the CEO of Medsphere Systems Corporation, provider of electronic health record technology, in a well-researched and link-laden blog post. The rural healthcare technology referenced in the blog post includes using video connections to enable remotely located patients to be seen by healthcare providers – a capability that rural communications service providers play an important role in enabling.

The blog post includes a range of data points illustrating the rural healthcare crisis:

  • More than 70 rural hospitals closed between 2010 and 2016 and 673 were vulnerable to closure as of 2016, including 68% that were considered critical access facilities
  • The number of doctors per 10,000 residents is 13.1 in rural areas and 31.2 in urban environments
  • The number of specialists per 100,000 residents averages 30 in rural areas and 263 in urban areas
  • More than half the counties in the U.S. have no practicing psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker to deal with mental health and addiction issues

Rural Healthcare Technology
Technology will be critical to addressing the rural healthcare crisis and offers an option for addressing rural hospital closures, the author argues. To support this view, the blog post includes a range of data points (with links to original sources) illustrating the positive benefits that telehealth capability can provide, such as: 

  • A South Carolina study found that consultations via videoconferencing was as effective as in-person visits in treating depression in elderly veterans
  • Another South Carolina study found that videoconferencing consultations were as effective as in-person visits in treating post-traumatic stress syndrome
  • An Institute of Medicine report found that telehealth increases volume, improves care and cuts costs for keeping patients out of the emergency room and reducing readmission

Some rural healthcare facilities lack access to broadband connections capable of supporting initiatives such as these because the cost of deploying broadband in rural areas is considerably higher than in rural areas.  But the successful track record of initiatives such as these could help rural network operators in building a case for deploying broadband network facilities. In addition, some public funding sources are available to help cover some network costs.

The federal Universal Service Fund provides funding for connectivity to support rural healthcare providers through the Rural Healthcare Connect program. Funding goes to the healthcare providers, who can use it to purchase connectivity from communications network operators or to build their own network facilities. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also makes funding available to rural healthcare providers for specific telehealth projects through its Distance Learning and Telemedicine program. Recently funded projects aim to address rural opioid abuse and mental health issues.