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All Things HIT

Sep 22 2011   3:44PM GMT

My AAFP conference discussion on rural health

Posted by: AllinHIT
AAFP, American Academy of Family Physicians, Care coordination, EHR, HIE, Remote patient monitoring, Rural health, Telehealth, telemedicine

During the the rural health discussion at the AAFP conference, as moderator, I focused on two areas: The  common barriers, and the role that technology can play in addressing these barriers, while also providing quality care to an underserved, rural population. The group, small but passionate, were a diverse set of physicians representing rurals areas in various sections of the US, Canada, and even Nigeria.  Some were operating existing rural telehealth programs, while others were providing clinical services in communities lacking in care.  Some were searching for answers on how to simply deliver services.  Regardless of the background or situation, the challenges discussed were related to “access of care”, and the answers all mapped back to the technology solutions.

The group was quick to point out “access to care” as the biggest challenge in rural health, and within most critical access hospitals.  The interesting point about access is its diverse meaning among the various, and geographically different, rural areas.  “Access” to some communities related to lack of transportation, needed to help transfer the underserved population to much needed medical facilities in the city.  They associated transportation with compliance, managing chronic conditions, and in being able to provide basic care.  Another’s view of access was in regards to having a lack of access to specialists, versus basic, primary care. Consultations for chronic diseases, CHF, and anything neurological are common gaps in service within these communities and must be addressed in order to improve population health.

The challenges, though great, are not insurmountable.  The group agreed that the telehealth umbrella — which includes telemedicine, tele-monitoring / remote patient monitoring, and tele-trauma — contains solutions which effectively address most of these challenges.  Transportation issues, a lack of specialists, and access to care all can be solved by creating telehealth programs. It was not a surprise that some of the physicians were implementing these programs already, but want to actively expand their services.  So, it was quite disappointing that even among this group, there was a lack of knowledge on the various CMS pilots and the various grants available for such programs.  The USDA Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program, Beacon communities funding, and even President Obama’s new Jobs Act, has funding for implementing telehealth.

Of course, I was more than happy to educate the group on the various efforts and online resources containing information on funding telehealth programs.  I’ve pledged to learn and listen to those on the front lines of providing care in rural areas and to educate when possible on telehealth.  Hopefully, by learning and educating, I can become a better advocate for change.  I thank the AAFP rural health table top participants for allowing me to do both.

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