Telehealth Use in Rural Healthcare

Telehealth Use in Rural Healthcare

Telehealth can assist healthcare systems, organizations, and providers in expanding access to and improving the quality of rural healthcare. Using telehealth in rural areas to deliver and assist with the delivery of healthcare services can reduce or minimize challenges and burdens patients encounter, such as transportation issues related to travel for specialty care. Telehealth can also improve monitoring, timeliness, and communications within the healthcare system.

Telehealth became a more prominent mode of providing healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic when patients and providers sought to decrease in-person contact for routine visits. In order to expand access to telehealth from patients’ homes and increase provider flexibility, laws, reimbursement policies, and regulations were temporarily changed through emergency orders and legislation. Some of these policy changes at the state and federal levels may become permanent.

Telehealth uses telecommunications technology and other electronic data to assist with clinical healthcare services provided at a distance, which can also include providing education, administrative functions, and peer meetings. While one of the most common images of telehealth is that of a patient speaking by videoconference with a healthcare provider who is located remotely, telehealth can take other forms, including:

  • Remote patient monitoring (RPM)
  • Store and forward transmission of medical information
  • Mobile health communication (mHealth)

This guide provides an overview of telehealth in rural America to help healthcare providers find information related to providing telehealth services and highlights funding opportunities and other initiatives to implement telehealth services. The guide includes examples of telehealth projects to serve as models for rural hospitals and clinics to develop and implement telehealth programs. Challenges for providing telehealth services in rural areas are also discussed, such as workforce issues, quality of care concerns, reimbursement, licensure, and access to broadband services.

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