How Telehealth is Improving Rural Access to Healthcare

How Telehealth is Improving Rural Access to Healthcare


A recent study from the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine used data from a rural Appalachian population and found that telemedicine is an effective alternative to in-person care, resulting in higher attendance rates.

In this study, researchers looked at data from the West Virginia University Department of Family Medicine, excluding data from patients who live more than 60 miles outside the state line. They found that 13,013 of their 110,999 patient visits were telemedicine appointments.

Researchers used a retrospective study to determine the correlation between visits that are completed and the setting in which they occur.

They found that telehealth can drive appointment completion rates up by about 20 percent.

Researchers found that many patients were unlikely to take advantage of telehealth services due to resistance to change or lack of access to proper technology.

The research team also discovered that although at-risk individuals are less likely to complete their appointments, telemedicine made it more conducive to participation. 

The use of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in higher rates of appointment completion for rural residents. It had the most significant effect on difficult-to-reach patients who live further from the clinical location, as well as on patients with more severe health issues.

One of the limitations of this study is that it uses data from only one organization, and therefore neglects subjective barriers to care access, as well as lacking information about patient demographics and complete data beyond the check-in phase.

It should be noted that the study has not yet been validated by other clinics, as more information is needed to understand the extent of telemedicine’s effectiveness.

Several efforts have been made by federal officials and lawmakers to increase access to telehealth for rural populations over the past year.

States in rural areas like Alaska, Michigan, Texas, and West Virginia will have a new way to access health care provided by telehealth. A three-year pilot program to enhance virtual services is being created by the National Telehealth Technology Assessment Resource Center and the Telehealth-Focused Rural Health Research Center at the University of Arkansas, which is receiving an $8 million grant from federal officials. 

In October 2021, two US congressmen established a task force to provide congressional guidance on how to make rural telehealth more efficient. The Rural Telehealth Access Task Force Act would start a study and develop strategies to improve its efficiency.

Mend has been dedicated to making healthcare more accessible since 2014. If you’d like to learn more about how Mend can help your organization see more patients, contact us today.

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