Accessibility is key when it comes to healthcare. Rural areas tend to have a shortage of doctors, and this can create challenges for healthcare systems and patients. This guide will cover several options that healthcare providers might wish to consider when attempting to expand access to healthcare for people living in rural areas.
Telemedicine allows patients to have a consultation with a healthcare professional without the need for an in-person visit. For example, patients might have a consultation via an online video chat, and nurse advice lines could be used as well. Healthcare providers should explore the benefits that nurse advice lines provide to rural patients without access to care facilities. Being able to talk to a nurse over the phone can put the patient’s mind at ease or let him or her know when urgent treatment is required. Nurses might also be able to spot concerns early so that the patient can be treated more easily and effectively. Patients in rural areas without telemedicine often have to travel several hours to attend a clinic appointment for a minor medical concern. Telemedicine saves these patients time and money, and it offers healthcare providers an efficient way to build rapport with patients and provide long-term care.
Alternative care sites are places where patients can receive medical care outside of a clinic or hospital setting. For example, a school cafeteria may be used as an alternative care site for nurses to administer vaccinations, and a section of a store could be set up for blood pressure checks. Since rural areas might not have any medical clinics, alternative care sites can enable residents to receive vital health services that they might otherwise have to travel several hours to obtain. For some residents with limited transportation, alternative care sites may offer their only opportunity to undergo basic health checks.
Clinics, hospitals, and other medical centers in rural areas could choose to become affiliated with larger healthcare systems in their region or state. Doing so often helps rural medical offices increase their financial security, and it can provide opportunities to expand the range of medical services available to patients. For example, affiliating with a larger healthcare system could allow patients to see specialists at the rural center on certain days of the week, and it may make it easier for them to receive complex care or to have surgery in their hometown. Electronic medical records are shared across all parts of the healthcare network, and this gives providers quick access to critical patient information in the event of an emergency.
It’s difficult for many people to have adequate access to healthcare. As technology advances, healthcare access in rural areas is likely to improve. By maintaining an open dialogue with patients in these areas and listening to their needs, providers can help increase access to vital health services for patients in these underserved communities.