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Recently, with the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a multitude of barriers for people to get access to healthcare. Long wait times, patient congestion in hospitals, and a lack of supplies has been negatively impacting both healthcare providers and patients. Rural communities often struggle to access healthcare due to nearby clinics being very far away and or a lack of health specialists being readily available. Recently, some studies have shown telehealth is an effective approach to communication and counselling for patients that have difficulty accessing the care they need. Telehealth is also a good way for doctors to monitor their patients’ chronic conditions, like heart or lung disease (CDC, 2019).

Given the shortage of some medical specialties in rural areas, telehealth will play a vital role in ensuring patients in rural communities can receive access to essential care. By using telehealth, medical providers can leverage telecommunications technologies to connect a patient with a specialist online rather than asking the patient to travel to another community to receive care. The convenience of telehealth also has the benefit of reducing travel times for patients. A study in Nunavut, Canada, reported that in 50% of telehealth patient care sessions, either a patient or a professional or both would have had to travel had telehealth not been used (Jong et al., 2019). Likewise, an unpublished 2017 survey by R. Jong in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, found that physician users of telemedicine consistently report that telehealth resulted in improved patient care, reduced transfers, and collaboration and support for the patients and remote health providers (Jong et al., 2019).

With telehealth rapidly expanding its reach, rural communities can now access healthcare services more conveniently than ever before. It has the advantage of being cost-effective and giving patients access to care closer to home. With the on-going fears of the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has the potential to expand further into rural communities that want to protect themselves and their families from the disease and other concerns.

References:

CDC. (2019, June 12). Telehealth in Rural Communities. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/factsheets/telehealth-in-rural-communities.htm

Jong, M., Jong, R., & Mendez, I. (2019, May 8). Enhancing access to care in northern rural communities via Telehealth. PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6508052/

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