3 min

Virtual Care Solutions to Rural Healthcare Challenges

Implementing virtual care solutions in rural areas can make access to healthcare convenient, ease financial burdens and alleviate staffing shortages.

It’s no secret that access to healthcare is critical to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but for those living far from healthcare facilities, that access can be limited. Healthcare access is essential to disease prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment of illness as well as quality of life — so how can rural residents ensure they can obtain the care they need?

Barriers to healthcare in rural communities may exist for several reasons, impeding residents’ access to healthcare services. Chief among these reasons are the geographical barriers to physical healthcare facilities, the financial stress on healthcare systems and staffing shortages. Together, these challenges can make healthcare services more expensive and difficult to access.

One possible solution to these challenges is virtual care. Virtual care is the ability to connect patients with healthcare professionals to deliver care when and where it is needed. Virtual care can help rural residents overcome these challenges by providing convenient, timely healthcare options no matter where they are.

Here are three ways that virtual care can solve common challenges for healthcare providers in rural communities.

1. Direct, virtual access to healthcare services for residents

Telehealth is the delivery of healthcare via digital technologies. By overcoming geographical barriers, healthcare can be accessible anywhere at any time, making healthcare in rural communities more convenient than ever. This can be especially helpful in areas where residents live great distances from their nearest healthcare facilities. Telehealth solutions help break down the geographical barriers between providers and patients. These solutions can be seen through different types of telemedicine: synchronous telemedicine, asynchronous telemedicine and remote patient monitoring.

Synchronous telemedicine refers to the delivery of health information in real time. A form of synchronous telemedicine can be having a live video call with a provider.

Asynchronous telemedicine is communication between providers and patients that is not live; typically, this dialogue helps supply additional information. This “store-and-forward” approach lets patients send information to providers for later review. With asynchronous telemedicine, a patient can send an electronic picture/message to their provider for future diagnostic and treatment expertise.

Remote patient monitoring enables providers to remotely monitor and stay up to date on patients’ health conditions. Common physiological data that can be tracked with remote patient monitoring solutions includes vital signs, weight, blood pressure and heart rate.

These telemedicine solutions are intended to increase convenient access to care, enable better clinical outcomes and decrease healthcare costs.

2. Easing financial burdens on healthcare systems

Because rural hospitals tend to have lower population densities and higher relative operating costs, healthcare in rural communities tends to be more expensive. Hospitals remain fully staffed — no matter how many or few patients are present.

Virtual care can be an effective cost-containment strategy to avoid more expensive healthcare modalities, in-person care and emergency room visits. For example, preventative care and early detection can be facilitated through virtual care, freeing up valuable space and healthcare personnel. Proactively managing chronic conditions virtually can also reduce unnecessary hospital stays and decrease readmissions, saving money for patients and hospitals in the process. By addressing issues before they become larger, more expensive problems, virtual care ensures better health outcomes and cost savings.

3. Addressing staffing shortages

Clinical staffing shortages have impacted the entire healthcare industry; however, rural healthcare systems may be among the most affected due to limited funds, resources and geographical constraints. Virtual care presents an opportunity to expand the recruiting radius outside of rural communities to healthcare professionals around the country who can provide services remotely.

Another telehealth solution designed to assist healthcare staff is telesitting. Telesitting is a remote patient observation system enabling a single clinical technician to simultaneously monitor 12 to16 patients. Telesitting tracks patient activity and alerts staff of any concerns, improving patient safety, reducing costs and helping overburdened clinicians.

Though healthcare systems in rural communities face a number of challenges today, the opportunities presented by virtual care solutions can help ease both financial and staffing burdens, improving the patient experience and expanding access to care.

Story by Chris Popielski Senior Manager for CDW Healthcare

Chris Popielski

Senior Manager for CDW Healthcare
Chris Popielski is a senior manager for CDW Healthcare. He has 18 years of experience with the company.