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.
Table of contents
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?
“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:
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.
Healthcare services, including primary care, specialized care, and mental health care, are often less common in sparsely-populated areas. 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.
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.
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. 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.
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]
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