Young woman living in rural area preparing for telehealth appointment on laptop

What are the benefits of (and barriers to) telehealth in rural areas?

Medically reviewed on February 28, 2022 by Morgan Spicer, Medical Communications Manager. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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Telehealth services are becoming increasingly common, and are now being offered in a variety of forms, especially in rural or remote areas. But what specific benefits does telehealth have for rural areas? And what are some of the barriers to expanding telehealth?

What is telehealth?

“Telehealth” is an umbrella term that encompasses any sort of healthcare you can receive while not being physically present at the doctor’s office. This can include:[1]

  • Having a phone conversation with a clinician about symptoms, medications, or lab results
  • Performing a virtual appointment over phone or video
  • Viewing test results or requesting medications online (such as on a smartphone, computer, or tablet)
  • Use of remote monitoring devices, such as a blood pressure cuff or glucose meter that transmits results to your healthcare provider electronically
  • Uploading pictures or videos for a clinician to review remotely

Mental health care, such as therapy, over phone, video, or text messaging

As new technologies become available, there are more and more ways for patients to receive healthcare online. Expansion to healthcare benefits many groups of people, but has notable benefits especially for people in rural areas.

How does telehealth benefit rural areas?

Healthcare services, including primary care, specialized care, and mental health care, are often less common in sparsely-populated areas.[2] Rural areas, which tend to have a lower density of people compared to highly-populated cities, are no exception.

Given that the population density is very low in some rural areas, there is oftentimes a very large distance between patients and providers. This means that not only the physical distance poses a barrier to healthcare, but that a routine primary care visit can become a massive time sink. Telehealth and telemedicine options allow the distance and travel gap to close–patients can schedule visits at a time that works best for them without traveling long distances.[2]

In rural areas that are subject to extreme weather, this travel barrier can become even more valuable or even lifesaving–a dangerous, icy winter drive is no longer necessary to follow up health concerns that can range from cold symptoms to untreated infections.[3]

An extra benefit to the ability of telehealth services to overcome long distances is access to specialty and mental health care, which is especially lacking in rural areas.[3,4] Patients can access care beyond what may be in scope for primary care providers, including various aspects of clinical specialties such as cardiology, dermatology, and even emergency medicine.

Telehealth has another benefit to both patients and providers: cost savings.[2] Both direct costs, such as office or clinic visit fees, are often lower in a telehealth setting. In addition, patients who do not have to travel also benefit from some indirect cost savings such as transportation costs, whether they may include gas money or rideshare services–in addition, of course, to the time saved on the patient and provider ends.

Importantly, these benefits to telehealth in rural areas do more than just provide conveniences: some studies have suggested that telehealth is proving to be just as effective as in-person care for a wide variety of medical needs.[5]

What are the barriers to telehealth in rural or remote areas?

Despite the promise and early success of telehealth in less populated areas, there are still several barriers to large-scale implementation, including:[3,4,5,6]

  1. Lack of provider training. Healthcare providers are not usually trained in providing telehealth services in school, as telemedicine is a relatively new field. To make things more difficult, there are no standard industry-wide competency assessments to ensure all providers are providing the same level and quality of care.
  2. Startup costs. Telehealth services require a lot of equipment and infrastructure to implement. Tens of thousands of dollars in startup fees can pose a significant barrier to rural hospitals, and there must be additional funding set aside to set up and maintain a variety of softwares and online systems.
  3. Personnel. Even if healthcare systems are able to purchase telehealth equipment, funding such as grant money does not account for the additional staff required to oversee, manage, and perform telehealth services. Rural care facilities are often understaffed, and may not have extra resources or time to implement a new form of healthcare when they are busy taking care of traditional patients in the facility.
  4. Technology. Given that providers are often not trained on the rapidly-evolving systems used for telehealth, it is possible that they may not be comfortable using new technologies to provide patient care. Similarly, not all patient populations are comfortable learning how to utilize new technologies to receive healthcare.
  5. Reimbursement. Not all insurance plans cover telehealth, and some cover it at a lesser frequency than may be required–for instance, Medicare covers only one telehealth visit every 30 days in nursing homes.
  6. Internet access. Access to quality, broadband internet can be a challenge in remote areas for both patients and providers, as the infrastructure is not as broad as it tends to be in metropolitan areas.

The state of telehealth in rural areas

The expansion of telehealth services into remote areas is providing increases in access to quality, convenient, affordable healthcare for many patients who may otherwise not seek treatment. There are a variety of benefits to both patients and providers, but there are still a number of barriers to wide-scale implementation across healthcare networks.

If you're in a rural area and would like to try telehealth, Everlywell offers access to telehealth via Virtual Care Visits (major insurance plans accepted) so you can speak with a qualified expert on your terms.

Telehealth vs. in-person care: does it measure up

Benefits of telehealth: 5 advantages for patients

How does telehealth work?


  1. What Is Telehealth? New England Journal of Medicine. Accessed 2.27.2023.
  2. Butzner M, Cuffee Y. Telehealth Interventions and Outcomes Across Rural Communities in the United States: Narrative Review. J Med Internet Res. 2021;23(8):e29575. Published 2021 Aug 26. doi:10.2196/29575
  3. Nelson R. Telemedicine and Telehealth: The Potential to Improve Rural Access to Care. Am J Nurs. 2017;117(6):17-18. doi:10.1097/01.NAJ.0000520244.60138.1c
  4. Myers CR. Using Telehealth to Remediate Rural Mental Health and Healthcare Disparities. Issues Ment Health Nurs. 2019;40(3):233-239. doi:10.1080/01612840.2018.1499157
  5. Speyer R, Denman D, Wilkes-Gillan S, et al. Effects of telehealth by allied health professionals and nurses in rural and remote areas: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Rehabil Med. 2018;50(3):225-235. doi:10.2340/16501977-2297
  6. Calleja P, Wilkes S, Spencer M, Woodbridge S. Telehealth use in rural and remote health practitioner education: an integrative review. Rural Remote Health. 2022;22(1):6467. doi:10.22605/RRH6467
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