The use of telemedicine to solve “access to care” related disparities in rural areas has become a rapidly growing, global initiative in recent years. The past decade’s technological advancements have made previously underserved regions of the globe accessible by top doctors from the United States, Europe, and beyond. It has now become possible to “beam” doctors from their homes or offices to nearly any location on the globe with the simple press of a button.
In the words of ScienceDaily.com, “Telemedicine has the potential to increase access and improve health care quality, especially for patients with limited access to care. To encourage greater use of telemedicine, more than half of U.S. states have passed parity laws mandating that telemedicine visits be reimbursed at the same rate as an in-person visit… Disabled beneficiaries with mental illness, who were relatively sicker and poorer than the average Medicare user, were the most likely to have received telemedicine services.” This is because the disabled often have a difficult time commuting to and from a physical location for a doctor appointment or mental health checkup.
Disadvantaged populations are undoubtedly the greatest beneficiary to the telemedicine solution.
Populations which can benefit the most from telehealth are:
- Vision impaired
- Veterans with mental illnesses and/or injuries
- Hearing Impaired
- Families in Rural Areas
- Chronically Ill
- PTSD & Social Anxiety Sufferers
- Individuals with limited or no access to transportation or who rely on public transit
- Newborn Babies & Postpartum Mothers
- Disaster Victims
“With the push of a button, a rural nurse, doctor, or other health provider can activate a telehealth system and be instantly connected to a telehealth hub with board-certified emergency medicine physicians, experienced critical care nurses, neurologists, cardiologists, trauma surgeons, and other specialists. Access to such specialists improves the quality of emergency health care in rural areas, facilitates interprofessional collegiality, and reduces the professional isolation experienced by some rural clinicians. As my colleagues and I have shown, it also improves recruitment and retention of rural clinicians.” [Clint Mackinney – Telemedicine is Changing Emergency Care in Rural America – May, 2016]
Disaster relief may well be the most exciting way in which telemedicine plans to improve medical care and response time globally. For example, after the 2010 earthquake tragedy in Haiti, residents lost almost everything and had little to no access to emergency relief healthcare. Thankfully, within a matter of days, healthcare volunteers from the University of Miami set up a “tent hospital” from which they treated victims of the earthquake with telemedicine technology. Volunteers were able to connect injured citizens to their trauma center in Florida and treat patients virtually. Because internet access was down after the quake and cellular towers were damaged, the medical team in Haiti used two donated satellites to make calls and beam patient information over 700 miles to and from their Miami based facility. During an interview with Medscape, Dr. Antonio Marttos Jr, MD, [assistant professor of surgery at the University of Miami School of Medicine] elaborated: “Everything was destroyed over there… but we were able to connect to our trauma center in Miami. Without this technology, it would have been much, much more difficult to work logistics and communications.”
The University of Miami was not the only group to provide telehealth services to quake victims. Teams from across the United States, from the East to West coasts arrived within days armed with cellphones, laptops, and compassionate teams of medical volunteers to help ensure that injured Haitians received the care they needed.
Because many Haitians experienced severe “crush” wounds from debris, they were unable to be safely moved without medical help, which is why it was important that healthcare was brought to them and not the other way around. Telehealth for disaster relief is a relatively new concept, but it is sure to save million of lives in the decades to come.
Because of the overwhelming success of telemedicine in rural and impoverished areas, countries from Kenya to Mexico to Honduras have launched similar initiates which plan to aid citizens in the years to come. “Kenya has launched the first phase of a national telemedicine initiative that aims to improve access to better healthcare for the rural poor and the marginalized. The telemedicine programme will provide aplatform that will enable patients and healthcare providers in rural areas to interact with health experts at Kenya’s main referral hospital, Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), using video conferencing,” says SciDevNet.com. A solution is on the horizon.