More than 60 million Americans live in rural communities, where small hospitals strain to stay open amid increasing healthcare demands and dwindling revenue. Today, Nov. 15, 2018, is for them, and for the dedicated healthcare providers among them.
It’s National Rural Health Day, the third Thursday in November designated by the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health to celebrate rural healthcare providers and call attention to the unique health needs of rural populations. More than 80 small community hospitals have closed since 2010; hundreds of others struggle to survive.
Telehealth services, now offered by several healthcare systems nationwide, have become a lifeline for rural patients who can’t always travel the distances required to reach urban hospitals for care. Physicians and other healthcare providers electronically communicate “face to face” with these patients to help them manage everything from influenza to chronic conditions such as diabetes or congestive heart failure.
But as demand for long-distance healthcare grows, telehealth isn’t the only solution (nor the best one) available to healthcare providers.
Digital Healthcare’s Benefits for Rural Populations
Regularly connecting with patients digitally, through messages sent by text or email, is an excellent way for healthcare providers to educate, guide, set patient expectations for care and change health behaviors for the better.
This is true for patients dealing with a temporary care episode, such as a hip or knee replacement, for those with long-term care needs such as treatment for diabetes or heart disease, and for entire patient populations who benefit from ongoing wellness education. Regular digital communication between patient and physician can shepherd a patient successfully through an entire care episode, from diagnosis through a hospital stay and long-term recovery. It can save provider staff time by anticipating and answering patient questions and concerns, use reminders and education to prevent avoidable post-discharge complications and readmissions (which carry costly penalties for hospitals), and keep patients satisfied with an ongoing, caring connection with their providers.
The easiest way to connect with these patients is through their mobile devices. Smartphones, in particular, are the preferred mode of communication for most of us. Digital connections can touch patients instantly—with the right information at the right time—and also be stored for later reference and use.
There’s no ideal substitute for in-office and in-hospital direct patient care. Telehealth is one way to bridge the increasing gap between patients in rural areas and top-notch healthcare providers. But it’s not the only way. Digital healthcare keeps providers connected with their patients over the long term, ultimately helping to ensure successful long-term health outcomes.