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Telehealth Services Improve Geriatric Care in Rural Settings

By Vera Gruessner

- Imagine living in a small, rural town far away from urban centers offering a variety of societal benefits including access to healthcare specialists. This would pose significant problems for those who have chronic medical conditions or an acute disease. However, telehealth services solve these pressing issues by expanding access to specialists as well as reducing problems related to doctor shortages throughout rural locations.

Telemedicine Platform

Recently, National Public Radio reported that telehealth services are expanding care at Mercy Hospital, which is based in St. Louis. At this particular medical organization, cameras and video monitors are now used to communicate with patients as well as keeping track of their vital signs and overall health.

The plan is for Mercy Hospital to unveil the entire telemedicine platform on October 6. The beauty of these type of telehealth services is that doctors and specialists from various states will be able to track patients spread throughout five separate states.

This type of telemedicine platform will offer patients who live in rural parts of the Midwest the same opportunities that patients living in large, urban centers have. Well-trained physicians and specialists who reside in cities will now be able to offer the same, exact care to rural-based patients through the use of telehealth services.

Tom Hale, the executive medical director of Mercy Virtual, told the news source about the potential benefits of telehealth services. In particular, remote patient monitoring technology and telehealth services could reduce overall healthcare costs while maintaining high-quality care. It can expand access to healthcare and, thereby, ensure patients have a fighting chance to effectively treat and manage their medical conditions.

“You can monitor their heart, their blood pressure, their respiratory rate, their temperature on a 24/7 basis,” Hale stated. “You can monitor their position — so you can tell if they've been out of bed. You can tell if they've turned in bed.”

Along with patients who live in rural locations, the elderly population could also benefit from telehealth services. As the Baby Boomer population grows older, telemedicine technology and video-based physician consultations will grow in popularity since many may prefer to reside at home into their golden years instead of moving to a nursing facility.

Additionally, as the baby boomer generation grows in age and schoolchildren are also exposed to telehealth services, the entire telemedicine sector could become a $3.5 billion industry over the next five years, according to analyst Sarah Turk of IBISWorld.

“Coverage will be expanded to include more physicians and more specialties and also a range of communications,” Turk told the news source. “So instead of it being only interactive video consultation, it could be text messaging as well.”

However, the telehealth industry does have some challenges ahead before it can truly expand across the country. Federal and state legislation will need to ensure doctors and healthcare providers who offer telehealth services are appropriately reimbursed. Health payers and insurers will need to take part in ensuring doctors receive the same pay for these services as in-person visits.

Policymakers and health insurers will need to take part in boosting the expansion of telehealth implementation in order to ensure patients in rural locations as well as the elderly have greater access to care.

However, one health policy analyst, Dr. Ashish Jha, states that insurers have a reason to be wary of telehealth services.

“If telemedicine really saved money, payers would be falling over themselves paying for this stuff, right? Because it would actually benefit their bottom line. It tends to be an addition,” Jha told the source. “You do the telemedicine; it leads to more tests. It leads to more follow-up visits. And, over time, when you look at the data, it turns out that telemedicine overall is not necessarily a big cost saver.”

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