Several states, including Georgia, are adopting telehealth technology to address a shortage of physicians in rural areas, Bloomberg reports.
According to the National Rural Health Association, about 25% of U.S. residents live in rural areas, while only 9% of physicians work in such regions.
In addition, residents of rural areas are more likely to have higher rates of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, arthritis and bronchitis, the group said.
HHS has reported that more than 75% of rural communities in the U.S. have fewer than one physician per every 3,500 residents, which is the agency's benchmark for "adequate" care.
In addition, the federal health reform law will expand insurance coverage to as many as 15 million more residents, which will put more pressure on health care delivery, Bloomberg reports.
Georgia Telehealth Initiative
A Georgia initiative is placing videoconferencing equipment in schools in rural counties to help improve students' access to physicians. For example, Ware County has installed videoconferencing equipment at all 10 of its schools, giving them the ability to link physicians with 5,782 students.
Jeffrey Kesler, COO of the Georgia Partnership for Telehealth, said that with telehealth technology, "a child can be seen, assessed, diagnosed and treated within 30 minutes."
To provide adults with better access to physicians, Georgia also is placing telehealth equipment in:
- Clinics; and
Bloomberg reports that similar initiatives exist in other states, including:
- North Dakota; and
- South Dakota.
Growth of Telehealth
Thomas Nesbitt -- associate vice chancellor for strategic technologies and alliances at the University of California-Davis -- said that use of telehealth technology has been driven by various factors, including:
- An increase in broadband availability;
- A reduction in technology costs; and
- Supportive reimbursement rules for physicians who use the technology (Flinn, Bloomberg, 9/5).