Telemedicine is gradually making its place in the global market. However, it is of utter importance to spread technology in rural areas, where there is a shortage of healthcare services. With its growing stage, there are plenty of challenges in telemedicine to overcome. But the advantages are significant enough to implement and adopt by the rural areas across the world, with improved broadband and telecommunication facilities.
Telemedicine aims to help healthcare centers, hospitals, and other healthcare providers to provide better access and improved medical facilities. It enables in assisting and delivering healthcare services. The technology enhances the communications between the doctor and the patient, with better patient monitoring, and easy healthcare accessibility. It uses electronic medium and telecommunication technology for the exchange of data to provide clinical assistance to the patients. In comparison with the urban areas, the rural areas need telemedicine services even more urgently. This is so as:
- Rural areas have a higher percentage of unhealthy behaviors.
- They have lesser and more difficult access to healthcare
- Weak transportation system that results in delayed healthcare treatment
- Poor access to healthy food
- Lack of hygiene
Challenges Related To Telemedicine Services In Rural Areas
Though technology would witness a bright future, it has some key challenges, which need a solution. Let us discuss the major hindrances faced by the industry in establishing technology in rural areas around the world.
1 Acceptance by the rural people:
This is the first and foremost hurdle. It is important for the rural population to learn and adopt telemedicine services. Due to a lack of education and awareness, the rural population is reluctant to adapt to the technological transformation. They still prefer the conventional method of treatment and find it hard to rely on new methods. In such cases, the treatment becomes difficult and gets delayed.
2 Medical reimbursement:
Reimbursement regulations across the world are still very rigid and old-fashioned. They need to be modified and designed according to the current and emerging technological trends and medical requirements. Some of the basic reimbursement models that need attention are:
- Service restrictions
- Geographic obstacles
- Provider restrictions
3 Network and connectivity:
In rural areas, the issues with internet connectivity, speed, and network are quite common. Telecommunication companies along with the healthcare industry are working on this. It aims to strengthen the networks and the broadband services in rural areas, at affordable rates for the users.
The present physician licensure system is a bit burdensome for healthcare professionals. If any physician is willing to practice across the state, then he must have the license from the official licensing board in the state he wishes to practice or provide patient care. License is also important to avoid any illegal service providers in the market. To ease these barriers the states in the world are taking different measures such as:
- developing interstate compacts
- providing a license for the telemedicine services
- endorsement with the other states
5 Deployment costs:
The cost of setting up an entire telecommunication system in an area, along with practical training and data management tools for healthcare professionals is very high.
6 Reduced human interaction:
Though it has its own set of benefits, the telemedicine technology in the rural area lessens the human interaction with their doctors and thus, misses the patient-doctor bond. It sometimes also results in the risk of erroneous medication prescribing.
Technology, Facilities, And Staffing Required For Implementation Of Telemedicine In Rural Areas
Now, in order to implement telemedicine services in rural areas, there are certain requirements in terms of resources like staffing, partnerships, physical space, and technology. Let us discuss them one by one:
With the expansion of telehealth programs across the globe, the companies are adopting the usage of off-the-shelf equipment like smartphones, tablets, laptops, and webcams. Besides, there are several other electronic devices and peripherals that are used for transmission and reception of important data. Some of the key technologies used in the telemedicine are:
1 Remote patient monitoring kits:
These kits include blood pressure monitors, measuring scales, glucometers, etc. with a stable internet connection. There are several other devices that are used to measure vital stats integrated with the tablet, mobile kiosk, or smartphones.
2 Field kits, telemedicine carts:
These are the all-in-one kits or systems which comprise all the essential tools and equipment for the site of emergency or patient site. These components include x-ray machines, computers, peripherals, and so on.
The peripheral devices include ophthalmoscopes, stethoscopes, dermascopes, otoscopes, and others that capture an image and transmit it via electronic medium for further assessment and diagnosis. These images are stored for future reference as well as can be seen in real-time.
4 Video-conferencing setup:
This setup includes video-conferencing software, a camera, or a smart device like a tablet or mobile phone. It enables a face-to-face connection between the doctor and the patients. This setup is also used for administrative meetings, further assistance by the doctors with their colleagues and senior doctors, educational webinars, clinical encounters, etc.
There are various factors to consider while setting up a physical space for telemedicine services. For example, the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) suggests that such healthcare programs should have a privately-owned space to improve patient’s confidentiality and trust in the system. It can simply be a soundproof room where the private interactions cannot be heard outside with a proper door locking system. Besides, the room should receive proper mobile signals and internet speed, with proper lighting to conduct proper live videoconferencing.