Benefits of Telehealth in Rural Populations
Kansas is considered a rural state in the United States. Merriam-Webster (2012) defines rural theoretically as “open land” or “relating to the country, country people or life, or agriculture”. The U.S. Census Bureau considers rural to be “open country and settlements with fewer than 2,500 residents” (Cromartie, 2007). Nearly 17% of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, which is about 80% of all U.S. territory (Cromartie, 2009). What this means that there is more land mass compared to the people inhabiting the land; rural communities have fewer people living in larger, more remote areas. Individuals living in rural communities have different cultures and experiences than those living in urban communities, which can become problematic in regards to healthcare.
Many factors such as sociocultural, financial and structural issues create barriers to healthcare access for individuals living in rural America. Sociocultural factors include self-reliance, education, language and beliefs; financial factors include inadequate health insurance, income and resources; structural issues include the physical distance to travel, ability to travel and time to travel to healthcare facilities or healthcare professionals (Graves, 2008).
For decades, individuals living in rural areas have been considered medically underserved. Access to healthcare is a problem that has been increasing for individuals in rural America due to aging populations, declining economies, rural hospital closures, rising healthcare costs, healthcare provider shortages and difficulties attracting and retaining healthcare personnel and physicians (Bauer, 2002). This population experience more health disparities than those in urban communities that have led to poor health outcomes (Graves, 2010). Reports on morbidity and mortality have shown that compared to individuals living in an urban area, rural residents are “older, describe themselves as ‘less healthy’, have more chronic health problems and also tend to seek medical care less often than urban residents” (Bushy, 2002, p. 104). Efforts to bridge the gap in healthcare for this underserved population led researchers to monitor trends to obtain understanding of the disparities between urban and rural communities and investigated possible solutions to the problems (Graves, 2010). With this research, the focus was placed on computers and technology-based delivery methods for a solution, thus the emergence of telemedicine, or telehealth. Telehealth is described as the “use of videoconferencing and/or other telecommunication technologies to enable the transmission of diagnostic images, video and/or information between patients and health care providers that are not physically in the same place” (Bushy, 2002, p. 110; Demiris, Doorenbos & Towle, 2009, p. 129). This paper will show that the use of telehealth will benefit individuals living in rural communities by bringing them...