Telehealth Delivers Benefits for Rural Women

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Telehealth is a modern-day solution to health problems both old and new. Though it presents benefits to a variety of patients, rural patients likely experience the richest benefits. As Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) notes, it can sometimes be difficult to determine whether an area is urban or rural.1 In fact, the term “rural” is not even defined by the Census Bureau—it is considered to encompass “all population, housing, and territory not included within an urban area.” Essentially, according to this definition, whatever is not urban is considered rural. There are two types of urban areas identified by the Census Bureau: 1) Urbanized Areas (UAs) of 50,000 or more people and 2) Urban Clusters (UCs) of at least 2,500 and less than 50,000 people.1Generally, rural areas are characterized by low population and lack of access to critical resources such as medical care.

Rural individuals face many health disparities compared to urban individuals. Poverty and poor access to healthcare contribute greatly to these disparities. Overall, rural communities are in poorer health than others. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rural Americans are at higher risk of death from five leading causes: heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke.3 In addition, rural areas have higher rates of preterm births and infant mortality.

Telehealth has helped combat these rural disparities through the following four modalities:

  • Live video, which uses audiovisual telecommunications technology;
  • Store-and-forward, which involves transmission of health information such as x-rays and other images through a secure electronic communications system to a healthcare provider;
  • Remote patient monitoring, which involves electronic transmission of health data from a patient in one location to a provider in another location; and
  • Mobile health (mHealth), which includes healthcare and education supported by mobile devices such as tablets and cell phones.
  • Although there are some barriers to successfully implementing telehealth, it is generally regarded as a convenient and cost-effective way to provide subspecialty healthcare that is not available locally. This is true in obstetrics and gynecology. In obstetrics, telehealth can be used for both low-risk and high-risk pregnancies, and in gynecology, it is used for both routine and specialty examinations.

Telehealth benefits and considerations

Healthcare in America is becoming too expensive for companies, individuals, and taxpayers. Technology offers the potential to offer increased access to care at a better value. In utilizing telehealth, the overall healthcare system benefits from lower costs, less travel, improved health outcomes, and reduced emergency room utilization.9 Although there are numerous benefits to telehealth, there are also many things to consider when beginning or expanding a telehealth program or clinic, including for obstetrics and/or gynecology (see box below).


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