Image credit: Kentucky Hospital Association
Remote care management (RCM) can be instrumental to closing the gap in accessing healthcare that exists in rural communities. When options such as in-home healthcare can cost an average more than $4,000 a month for services*, many of which don’t even encourage the improvement of personal health outcomes, it is imperative to find alternatives that work for providers and patients alike.
Attempting to provide care in rural communities can often pose many different challenges. First and foremost is the disparity in primary care physician (PCP) to patient ratio between urban and rural areas. Limited provider availability can mean that patients wait months to receive care. Patients with chronic conditions, who rely on regular care, are particularly affected – they may have to miss work for the first available appointment and require flexibility for long wait times or rescheduling. At the same time, depending on where they are seeking services, some patients must travel long distances for care, sometimes resulting in a drive of two hours or more.** In the case of specialists, drives for these patients can be even longer.
For those successfully managing chronic conditions, visits are generally uneventful and consist of checking and charting vitals - something that RCM can easily provide^. Through RCM, health vitals such as blood pressure, weight, blood glucose, heart rate, and oxygen levels can be easily measured by patients in the convenience of their home using devices that are designed for this purpose. These devices have become sophisticated enough to automatically transfer the measurements to patients’ phones and other smart devices, which then allow the data to be shared with their care provider (PCP, other healthcare professional, caregiver, or family member). Many digital health applications also keep a log of the vitals for patients and their care providers to see trends over time as well as the ability to set up alerts so that if any vital goes above a patient-specific threshold, the care provider is alerted and can take immediate action if needed.
With RCM, the time spent away from the doctor can now be used as an opportunity to measure and track vitals, medications, and wellness. For users in rural communities, this can go a long way towards eliminating the hassle of face-to-face check-ins with their healthcare provider. By integrating RCM with the care provided in rural communities, the access to care increases, the emphasis of care shifts to maintaining wellness, and the gap that once existed closes as patients have ownership over their care and personal health.
*Cost of Care Survey, 2019. Genworth. Retrieved on November 15, 2020, from https://www.genworth.com/aging-and-you/finances/cost-of-care.html
**Syed, S. T., Gerber, B. S., & Sharp, L. K. (October 2013). Traveling Towards Disease: Transportation Barriers to Health Care Access. U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Retrieved on October 10, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4265215/
^Turner-Lee, N. ( Summer 2019). Can Emerging Technologies Buffer the Cost of In-Home Care in Rural America? Generations: Journal of the American Society on Aging. Retrieved on December 8, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/26760121