Healthcare Anywhere: The Pledge of Telehealth

Laura A. Stokowski RN, MS

Disclosures

October 30, 2008

In This Article

Healthcare Anywhere: The Pledge of Telehealth

Electronic healthcare. Sounds impersonal, but it may well become the savior of 21st-century healthcare.

In the not-too-distant future, our ailing and aging population could easily overwhelm the traditional bricks-and-mortar healthcare system.[1] Forward-thinking healthcare providers are turning to digital solutions not only to cope with the anticipated surge in patients with chronic diseases, but also to shift the focus of healthcare to prevention, saving money by keeping patients at home and out of the hospital.[1] A basic premise of telehealth (sometimes called e-health), is that patients can receive care when and where they need it. Geography is no longer a barrier to care, and healthcare is increasingly accessible to the medically underserved in rural or remote areas of the country.

At the time of the last census, more than 94% of the United States was classified as rural. One fourth of our population lives in rural areas, and although their numbers are fewer, their healthcare needs are not. Compared with urban-dwelling Americans, rural residents have higher poverty rates, a larger percentage of elderly, and tend to be in poorer health. Nearly half have at least 1 major chronic illness.[2] Access to healthcare is, for rural Americans, more difficult, more expensive, and more infrequent.

Even within urban areas, access to healthcare can be problematic and expensive. Millions of dollars are spent each year to transport nonambulatory patients to clinics and physician offices for routine care. Home healthcare agencies are already struggling to accommodate the population's need for services with limited resources, a situation that is only expected to worsen.[3] It is for all of these reasons that telehealth has been proposed as a bridge to care for medically underserved Americans.

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