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How Telemedicine can be the Bridge for providing Better Medical Care in Rural Areas

Telemedicine has great potential to improve medical care in rural areas.

It can help healthcare organizations, providers, and systems improve the quality of medical care in rural areas.

Using telemedicine in rural areas can minimize the burdens and challenges encountered by patients.

It can also improve communications, monitoring, and timeliness within the system.

The Rise of Telemedicine

Telemedicine became one of the most prominent modes of providing healthcare during the COVID-19 outbreak when providers and patients wanted to minimize the in-person contact for regular check-ups.

Reimbursement policies, regulations, and laws were changed on emergency legislation and orders to expand access to telemedicine. Some of these changes become permanent at the state and federal levels.

Telemedicine can take many forms, but the most common is a patient seeking consultation from a remotely located provider. Some of the types of telemedicine include:

  • Remote patient monitoring (RPM)
  • Mobile health communication (mHealth)
  • Store and forward medical information

How Can Telemedicine Assist Healthcare Providers in Rural Areas?

In 2015, a National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services Policy briefed, Telehealth in Rural Areas, telemedicine in rural areas can improve provider retention at rural hospitals and reduce provider isolation & burn-out.

In July and August 2022, the Covid Healthcare Coalition conducted a telehealth impact study. It was found that 86.5% of rural physicians had been using telemedicine technology for 6 months or fewer as of mid-2020. According to the survey, 45% of the physicians were satisfied with the services they provided via telemedicine.

With the use of telemedicine in their practice, rural providers can save time and provide better patient care with facilities like:

  • Team-based care
  • Specialists for real-time consultations
  • Virtual peer networks
  • Outsourced analyses
  • In-house patient monitoring
  • Constant training
  • Reduced travel

Implementing telemedicine needs changes in the workflow, procedures, and policies. The staff will need additional training. NCRTC offers physicians and the staff a guide for telehealth resources and tools.

Telehealth and telemedicine are two of the most used terminologies in healthcare. Though they seem similar, they are different.

Let us understand the difference between them first.

The Thin Line Between Telemedicine and Telehealth

Telehealth is using electronic data and telecommunications technology to provide clinical healthcare at a distance.

It incorporated administrative functions, peer meetings, and providing education.

Telemedicine is used for remote medical services.

The only difference between these terms is that telemedicine is used for medical services while telehealth is used for both medical and non-medical services.

Hence, Telemedicine is a part of Telehealth.

Using telehealth, many services were provided to the people of rural areas.

Let us look at some of the most effective services among them.

Effective Healthcare Services with the Help of Telemedicine in Rural Areas

1. Emergency care

Provides access to local providers for getting in touch with ER providers to get real-time analysis and consultations.

2. Chronic care management interventions

Provides access to integrated care to the patients during primary care visits.

3. Provider-to-provider models

It allows rural specialists and primary care providers to work together as a team to manage patient care and share knowledge. E-consultations is a type of provider-to-provider model.

4. Intensive care units (ICUs)

It provides remote monitoring of patients in critical situations. A team of specialists works round-the-clock to monitor the patient parameters.

5. Telepharmacy

It provides access to pharmacy services like medications and medication counseling. It connects the patient to community pharmacy centers and rural healthcare facilities.

6. Home monitoring

It engages the patients in in-between medical visits and helps them in managing their condition effectively.

7. Online therapy

It gives access to rural people to connect with urban mental health and behavioral health specialists.

You must also read: White-label Telemedicine App

Telemedicine has overcome the limitation of location but it has got a long way ahead. Different challenges in this sector need to be tackled.

Challenges in Providing Telemedicine Services in Rural Areas

Telemedicine got a boost during the COVID-19 outbreak. It was present in the industry but not many were aware of it.

It has helped reduce the troubles of the rural residents but, it needs to tackle a few more challenges to be in the field.

Let us understand them thoroughly.

1. Broadband

A broadband connection becomes a necessity when it comes to telemedicine programs, HIT (health information technology), and HIEs (health information exchanges) to increase the quality of healthcare.

Initially, broadband was only required for providing telehealth services but today, it is required in patients’ homes as well.

Some of the rural communities do not possess access to an internet connection.

This gap may lead to a new set of health inequities.

2. Malpractice

Malpractice is one of the major reasons restricting the adoption of telehealth in rural areas. HIPAA, credentialing, security, privacy, and prescribing need to be encrypted for the data to be safe.

Though healthcare in rural areas is vital, the providers cannot risk making a breach with the PHI (Patient Health Information).

3. Reimbursement

For telemedicine programs, medicare reimbursement, geographic concerns, service restrictions, provider restrictions, and site restrictions have always been an issue.

State wise Medicaid programs vary for telehealth services reimbursement.

CCHP’s biannual report emphasizes Medicaid coverage for telehealth services.

Reimbursement for telehealth services varies for different private payers.

Some payers reimburse for telehealth services, while others don’t.

4. Licensure

Physicians wanting to practice across states must have a license from the professional licensing board of each state where they deliver care.

The licensure and interstate compacts section of the 2021 NCSL (National Conference of State Legislatures) Telehealth Explainer Series mentions the actions undertaken by the states to ease the licensure barriers and associated burdens:

  • Endorsement and reciprocity with other states
  • Building interstate compacts
  • Providing specific licenses for telehealth

With the support of HHS and HRSA, the Federation of State Medical Boards launched Provider Bridge, a platform to provide license portability to providers.

It allows the providers to treat patients and submit credentials in high-demand areas with telehealth.

The IMLC (Interstate Medical Licensure Compact) is an arrangement between the District of Columbia, 29 states, 43 osteopathic and medical boards, and the territory of Guam.

Within these states and territories, it offers a process for eligible physicians to get licensed and practice in multiple states.

The VA (Veterans Affairs) is an exception.

VA physicians can practice across states as they have license portability.

There are several licensing compacts for healthcare service delivery in rural areas using telehealth. Some of these are:

  • PSYPACT (Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact)
  • NLC (Nurse Licensure Compact)
  • APRN Compact (Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Compact)
  • REPLICA (The Recognition of EMS Personnel Licensure Compact)
  • ASLP-IC (Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Interstate Compact)

The Requirements for Implementing Telemedicine Services in a Facility

Telemedicine services implementation can be impacted by interoperability and connectivity issues.

To achieve successful outcomes, staff training and technology planning are vital steps.

Some of the staffing and technology considerations include:

  • Training of staff and providers
  • Reimbursement and payment methods
  • Services to be enhanced through telemedicine
  • Required equipment (it may vary depending on the services provided)
  • Security and privacy concerns
  • Data management services
  • Appropriate technology placements in the service area

The National Telehealth Technology Assessment Resource Center (TTAC) provides several toolkits that spread light on the equipment used in telehealth and telemedicine programs. provides information on telehealth implementation for practitioners, staff, and providers. It also includes best practice guides.

A CMS initiative aiming to support providers and patients as they switch to telemedicine also provides telehealth resources.

Meeting all the requirements can be difficult.

The government has established several programs to encourage the use of telemedicine in rural healthcare.

Some Funding Programs for Implementing Telemedicine in Rural Areas

There are several funding programs for establishing telehealth in rural areas.

The USDA (U. S. Department of Agriculture) Rural Development has several opportunities and programs for telehealth sponsorship. Some of those are:

USDA Distance Learning and Telemedicine Loan And Grant Program

It offers grants to improve telemedicine and support distance education services in rural areas.

USDA Community Facilities Direct Loan and Grant Program

For essential community facilities, it provides direct grants and loans.

Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program

In eligible rural areas, it provides the funding for needed equipment to establish broadband service. It also gives funds for acquiring, constructing, or improving facilities.

The EHB THNP (Evidence-Based Telehealth Network Program) is an HRSA program supporting the existing telehealth program for demonstrating effectiveness (evidence-based) in the increase in access to rural and remote areas.

The USAC (Universal Service Administrative Company) offers Rural Health Care Telecommunications Program that helps rural healthcare providers with the eligible expenses for telecommunication and broadband access.

Upcoming Telemedicine Trends to look out For

The growth in telemedicine refers to the rapid growth of ongoing trends and the development of new ones. These future trends in telemedicine will continue to change the industry.

1. AR and VR

These technologies are designed to deal with chronic health issues. It supports patients with cognitive impairments (dementia) and assists them in overcoming their limitations. Augmented reality has benefited robotic surgery, a substantial growing part of healthcare.

2. EHR - embedded solutions

Embedding a patient’s EHR (electronic health record) is vital to use the information productively in telemedicine. Though 96% of the US hospitals have adopted EHR technology, software developers have a promising field in integrating EHR systems with telemedicine solutions.

EHR integration will play a massive role in the security of PHI (patient health information). Data security should be prioritized when building telemedicine applications. Lack of security is a significant reason for the reluctance to use telemedicine solutions.

It would be best if you also explore: Telehealth EHR Integration

3. Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and big data

AI and ML will continue to develop and grow till their full potential is found in healthcare. At present, this technology is used for thermal screening, stroke prevention and prediction, CT scan analysis, and more.

Big Data will pave the way for in-depth research by providing valuable insights and statistics on society’s healthcare needs.

4. HL7

Due to the data security issues, Health Level 7 is a growing but existing trend in telehealth.

It is an internationally used telecommunications standard to facilitate medical data transfer between healthcare applications, including administrative programs.

You must also explore: HL7 Integration & Development Solution

5. Integrated data sharing

In the healthcare industry, tracking all patient treatment information is vital for every provider. This information consists of provider visits, pharmacy records, and medical history.

Integrated data sharing collects this information and grants access to all the clinics and hospitals visited by patients. The patient will not have to share this data when they’ve got an appointment with a new physician or provider.

6. Investment in technology

Investing in new technologies will aid you in using telemedicine effectively. Healthcare organizations are willing to invest more in telemedicine and telehealth. With the development of telemedicine, the circumstances will change.

7. Remote monitoring

Remote monitoring controls the patient’s health and reduces the number of offline clinical visits. It uses wearable technology to check the vital parameters of your patients and allows them to share the information with you. Hence, you will be able to provide care when there is any change in the patient’s vitals.

8. Internet of behaviors

Gartner used this term in a telehealth trends report in 2021. Internet of behaviors (IoB) combines data from different sources, going one step ahead of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data. It uses behavioral data (from internet usage) to develop recommendations for better choices.

Human behavior can be changed and predicted significantly.

Similar algorithms are used in digital marketing, social media, and bank systems.

To improve human health, human behavior needs to be changed.

9. Better data security

In 2022, 590+ healthcare institutions reported data breaches to the Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR). It affected about 48.6 million people, an increase from 40 million in 2021. Due to the growing number of data breaches, data security remains the top trend for the year and beyond.

Expand your practice area with telemedicine applications. Leave the stressful work for us while you focus on your patients. Get a live demo of our telemedicine mobile/web application.

Are you a practitioner wanting to level up your practice?

In a free consultation session with our senior technology leader or team member, we show you the real telemedicine solution.

You must also explore: Telemedicine App Demo Guide

Telemedicine applications have become a major patient consideration when choosing a provider for themselves.

Telemedicine apps help in building long-term patient relationships, hassle-free report transfer, remote monitoring, emergency care, home monitoring, and chronic care management.

Telemedicine in rural areas has got several challenges like, broadband, reimbursement, licensing, and malpractice but they will be overcome soon.

Many healthcare providers have started to use this technology to be in touch with their patients via telemedicine.

If you want to expand your medical practice and reach more patients, let’s connect today to discuss the services you want to incorporate into the application and how we can help you build your telemedicine app.