Rural healthcare providers across the U.S. are facing a wave of challenges like never seen before as widespread changes to healthcare legislation and changing market conditions are re-shaping how rural citizens get access the care they need.
The healthcare industry is faced with strains as doctor and nursing shortages are among the top concerns. An updated study from AAMC in 2017 revealed that the U.S. will need to supply 121,000 more physicians by 2030, with less physicians entering primary care. In a 2017 Merritt Hawkins survey; only 3% of surveyed medical school graduates would prefer practicing medicine in a small community only shows how much this problem is worsened in rural areas.
Several medical programs like the one featured on the independent documentary film The Providers are being developed to assist and recruit students from rural communities to participate in medical training courses so that once they graduate medical programs, they will be more likely to continue to practice medicine in their own communities. Program directors have noted that recruiting physicians from outside the community region does not have the same affect as recruiting local physicians. Outside physicians usually only stay as needed to meet the requirements to receive incentivized loan repayment or scholarships.
Telemedicine/telehealth while in its infancy and with its own set of challenges, is showing some promise to deliver healthcare by virtual wellness checks and communications between doctors and patient through technologies that include real-time video conferencing and supportive devices like mobile monitoring. Patients are connected virtually to doctors either at the hospital site, or if broadband exists at their own homes. Mobile telemedicine vans can also be deployed that can go onsite to a patient and then use the technology onboard to transmit health data to outside health professionals.
Another aspect of telemedicine is assisting rural ER doctors with critical lifesaving procures who may not have the necessary training, diagnostic information, or confidence to perform critical lifesaving interventions. Telemedicine can connect these doctors to outside resources to assist with running tests and making decisions on treatment options.
In the two years since implementing an ER video program with University of New Mexico called ACCESS, one hospital in Roswell has gone from transporting about half of their brain trauma patients to Albuquerque to transferring only about 6 percent.
Before telemedicine can even be considered, hospitals must invest in the proper information technology infrastructure to effectively manage such a program. Consideration for the critical elements such as properly architected network and security infrastructure; adequate circuit/broadband speeds; appropriate security measures; and remote monitoring and management solutions are critical to the long-term success of such initiatives. Engineers at Mandry Technology assists rural healthcare providers with their technology infrastructure to meet the requirements necessary for the next wave of future capabilities.