Americans in rural areas report more difficulty accessing high-quality healthcare than do those who live in the city or suburbs, with nearly a quarter of rural Americans saying that accessing good healthcare is a major problem, according to Pew Research.
One reason may be that rural Americans live farther from hospitals than do city or suburban dwellers. On average, rural Americans live 17 minutes from their nearest hospital, while suburban Americans live an average of 12 minutes away and urban Americans live just 10 minutes from their nearest hospital. One in four rural Americans live more than 30 minutes from the nearest hospital.
On top of that, rural communities are losing hospitals more rapidly than ever.
Sixty-four rural hospitals closed between 2013 and 2017, more than twice the number that closed in the previous five years, according to the United States Government Accountability Office. A new study indicates that one in five rural hospitals is at risk of closing; more than half of these were deemed essential to the community.
Rural Employees Need Telemedicine
Telemedicine enables rural employees to access good care when and where they need it.
Hospitals are picking up on the trend of telehealth by implementing services such as remote monitoring and live conferencing with specialists. HealthIT.gov says telehealth will play an important role in ensuring patients in rural communities can access the care they need.
Meanwhile, employers with a rural or dispersed workforce can, and should, ensure their employees can easily get the healthcare they need via telemedicine. When employees can talk to a doctor 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, they do not need to worry about traveling miles to the nearest practice, emergency room or urgent care center for non-emergency treatment.
Virtual Care Supports Rural Employees
Other virtual care solutions also play a role in rural employees’ well-being.
Employee assistance programs (EAPs) assist employees with mental and behavioral health needs, as well as refer employees for further treatment. This is vital: 65% of non-metropolitan counties do not have a psychiatrist, and 47% do not have a psychologist.
In addition, care navigation or healthcare concierge services can help rural employees find an affordable, convenient specialist.
These virtual care services, including telemedicine, can bridge the access gap for rural Americans, ensuring they can always reach the care they need when they need it.