Preference Personnel

Pros and Cons of Telemedicine in Rural America

By Jordan Murphy
March 2018
In continuing with our focus on the future of medicine in Rural America, we take time this month to touch on the future of Telemedicine.  Telemedicine is defined as the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by means of telecommunication technology.  From the surface, this looks like the answer to many of the challenges rural healthcare faces today, but let’s take a closer look at some of the Pros and Cons of Telemedicine in Rural America.  
• More convenient access to healthcare services.  We live in a world where you can get just about anything delivered directly to your doorstep.  Why not healthcare?  Through the use of technology, patients have the option to receive healthcare at times that are convenient to their busy lives.  
• More cost savings for patients and providers.  It’s estimated that the average American spends about 10 percent of their annual income on healthcare related expenses.  Unfortunately, this number is expected to grow as the cost of healthcare increases unproportional to Americans annual income.  Telemedicine may reduce the number of unnecessary non-urgent visits to the ER while reducing provider overhead expenses.  
• Better access to specialized care.  For every 100,000 rural Americans it is estimated there are only 40 healthcare specialists available.  Telemedicine offers these individuals better access to lifesaving medical services while reducing the need for long appointment commutes.    
• Increased up-front expenses.  Telemedicine requires substantial up-front costs in the form of both time and money.  Unfortunately, healthcare providers in rural America struggle with both.  Telemedicine needs to be seen as an investment to both the providers and the patients of that area.  The return on that investment, although slow to start, will eventually be measured in both patient satisfaction and  increased reimbursement.
• Reduction in continuity of care.  As you know, telemedicine can be a very convenient alternative to traditional medical care.  Although convenient to the patient, maybe not always convenient to the provider.  Providers may struggle with timely access to the records of those visits, which may cause delays in critical medical care.  This may result in reduced continuity and quality of the care provided. 
• Inadequate assessments.  Every healthcare provider manages the patient assessment process differently.  Although each unique, it is very common most healthcare providers combine a mixture of both physical and visual patient assessments.  Now eliminate the physical assessment…  This would be like putting a puzzle together without all the pieces.  Patients may experience inadequate assessments resulting in possible misdiagnosis and mismanagement of illnesses.    
Telemedicine will continue to provide outstanding benefits to both providers and patients, but in sum still has its limitations and may never fully solve the issue of healthcare access in Rural America.