Four Technologies Improving Rural Quality of Care

The following is a guest blog post by Chris Logan, Director, Healthcare Industry Strategy at VMware.

In the last decade, technology has significantly helped the healthcare industry make strides to improve care in rural settings. But many providers in rural areas still face major obstacles. For instance, 1 in 5 rural hospitals are at risk of imminent closure, and almost 50 percent of all rural counties lack an OBGYN. Most troubling of all is rural access to mental health services: 65 percent of rural counties do not have a psychiatrist and 47 percent do not have a psychologist.

There are two core issues that rural providers are facing.

The first is a technical issue. Infrastructure is vastly different in rural vs. urban areas. Rural providers face reduced access to WIFI and high-speed internet access, as well as reduced bandwidth. As 5G networks become a reality, we can hope for these difficulties to improve over time.

The second is a people issue. Providers in rural areas are facing a major workforce shortage in both technical and medical staff. Compensation, technology and lifestyle are all factors that contribute to physicians and IT professionals seeking out urban centers to begin and develop their careers.

Despite these difficulties, we’re living at a time of unprecedented technological capabilities. Four technologies in particular are helping healthcare organizations simultaneously meet patients where they are and meet the needs of physicians – telemedicine, mobile health, artificial intelligence and public cloud.

  1. Telemedicine: workforce shortages and transportation difficulties often result in patients in rural settings seeing their physicians less often and not adhering to care plans. So it stands to reason that connecting physicians and patients digitally can dramatically improve the situation. In particular, telemedicine allows patients in rural settings increased access to specialty care including mental health.
  2. Mobile Health: in the past, providers were only able to gather data from patients when they came in for an appointment. But now, we can collect useful data all the time. That’s due to the rise of wearable technologies like fitness trackers, as well as patient portals that allow for remote communication between patients and care teams.
  3. Artificial Intelligence: all that data we’re collecting is only as valuable as we make it. Artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques allow providers to identify trends within a specific population and create specialized care plans based on their unique factors.
  4. Public Cloud: public and hybrid cloud solutions enable telemedicine, mobile health and artificial intelligence to play a role in rural settings. Whether using cloud solutions from Google, Amazon, Microsoft or another provider, healthcare organizations have a more efficient solution for purchasing large amounts of technical resources needed for those applications. And because public cloud administrators don’t need to be on-premise, these organizations have improved access to talented IT practitioners regardless of their location.

It’s now more important than ever for leaders of healthcare organizations to consider the different ways in which they can support their populations. While the industry has always lagged in adoption to a certain degree, it’s critical that leaders use the technologies available to us to improve healthcare delivery across the spectrum – from major metropolitan areas all the way to the most remote locations.