As technology continues to evolve, healthcare facilities must embrace new innovations and services to keep up with the ever-changing medical industry. Through advanced technology, medical professionals will have access to cutting edge healthcare equipment, which is essential to ensure quality medical care. Innovative machines, more efficient diagnostic testing and other new medical devices show the effects of technology on healthcare services and patients’ health. However, medical providers and patients in rural areas continue to face challenges in healthcare. Due to the long distance from expert physicians in quality urban medical sites, low socio-economic conditions and limited technology, patients in rural areas lack direct access to quality health care. Thus, an innovative approach that includes a virtual health care system is essential to improve the accessibility and quality of care among patients and medical providers in rural areas.
According to Patel, Darling, Samuels, and McClellan (2014), about 19.3 percent of Americans live in rural areas, but only about 10 percent of physicians actually practice in rural areas. Overall, rural areas make up nearly 65 percent of all Health Professional Shortage Areas in the nation. Thus, the statistical information shows the high prevalence of limited health care services in rural areas, which adversely affects many patients living in those areas. Due to the lack of access to quality treatment and care, patients in rural areas face a high rate of chronic illnesses including HIV, diabetes, heart failure, disabilities and other chronic diseases.

Furthermore, the challenges that patients in rural areas face only increase the likelihood of chronic illnesses. For instance, many high quality physicians practice in urban medical clinics, which is a long distance from rural areas. Thus, patients in rural areas lack adequate transportation and economic resources to receive quality health care. Due to the long distance, they are unable to meet with expert physicians and receive the effective treatment that they need for their conditions. Also, many of the local rural medical providers have little to no networks with physicians in urban medical facilities, which limits their ability to recommend patients and receive up-to-date information on new health care technology and reform. Another factor that inhibits patients’ access to quality health care is the lack of internet access and technology in rural areas along with limited education and knowledge with using technology.

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Thus, it is pertinent that the health care system implement new reforms tailored to meet the needs of patients and medical providers in rural areas. The growing need for innovative technology is essential to help combat some of the major issues facing rural patients. For instance, I recommend a new technology system such as telemedicine, which will serve as a pipeline to affordable and quality health care in rural communities. Telemedicine involves virtual interactive communication between the patient and the physician at the distant site, which allows the patient to visit a medical facility in their local area to meet with a specialist remotely via video teleconferencing (Patel, Darling, Samuels, McClellan, 2014). For instance, RespondWell allows healthcare providers to provide patients a digital telerehabilitation experience, remotely (such as a doctor’s office, senior living facility or outpatient rehabilitation facility), or in the privacy of their own home (Harrison, 2015).

Another recommendation would be implementation of an e-care system, which is an electronic application that can be downloaded to mobile devices and other electronic and computer devices to allow patients to receive information about their medical records, schedule appointments and make updates to their plans. They will also be able to chat online with medical physicians and nurses to help enhance the communication between patients and physicians. Mold, de Lusignan, Sheikh, and Majeed (2013) found that “patients using online access to their EHR and services reported increased convenience and satisfaction, and these services positively impacted on patient safety” (p. 149). Thus, e-care and telemedicine are essential technology-based medical services that will help to improve accessibility to quality health care for patients in rural areas. For example, Avera e-CARE is an integrated health system that allows physicians and patients to interact virtually at flexible hours to provide the most efficient care.

Another important recommendation is to increase the communication between rural medical providers and physicians in urban medical clinics. Through virtual consultations and meetings, physicians and specialists will be able to collaborate on effective medical treatments and rural medical providers will be able to stay up-to-date on the latest changes and technology advancements in health care. Thus, effective communication between medical professionals is essential to closing the health care gap and working collaboratively to help reform health care in rural communities. Lastly, education and knowledge in the use of technology will be essential to make sure that patients and providers in rural areas understand how to effectively use virtual communication. Thus, I recommend virtual workshops and online education programs should be implemented to enhance the knowledge and use of innovative technology, which will help to ensure that the technological services are used properly to promote positive change to health care.

Although the Affordable Care Act has helped to streamline growth and stability within the health care industry, it still lacks adequate funding for new innovative approaches to health care within rural communities. The act allocates $11 billion in funds towards the operation, expansion, and construction of health centers throughout the states. It also includes major expansions in health training and medical personnel (Shaw et al., p. 77). Thus, at least 10 percent of the budget used for reconstruction should go towards implementing new technology and programs to better service underserved rural areas communities. Essentially, improving the quality of medical care in rural areas will have many health and cost-effective benefits that will reduce medical complications among rural patients and lower the number of emergency visits, which will help to create a more accessible, affordable quality health care system for all people regardless of geographic region.

    References
  • Harrison, K. (2015). 5 Companies Greening Healthcare With Telehealth Services. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/kateharrison/2015/09/08/5-companies-greening-healthcare-with-telehealth-services/#109bfa4c5661.
  • Mold, F., de Lusignan, S., Sheikh, A., Majeed, A., Wyatt, J., Quinn, T., Cavill, M., Franco, C., Chauhan, U., Blakely, H., Kataria, N., Arvanitis, T., Ellis, B. (2015). Patients’ online access to their electronic health records and linked online services: A systematic interpretative review. The British Journal of General Practice 4(9), 1-11. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2014-006021.
  • Patel, K., Darling, M., Samuels, K., McClellan, M. (2014). Transforming rural health care: High-quality sustainable access to specialty care. Health Affairs. Retrieved from http://healthaffairs.org/blog/2014/12/05/transforming-rural-health-care-high-quality-sustainable-access-to-specialty-care/.
  • Shaw, F. E. Asomugha, C. N., Conway, P. H., Rein, A. (2014). The patient protection and affordable care act: Opportunities for prevention and public health. The Lancet 384, 75-82. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(14)60259-2.
  • Avera eCare. (2016). Health Care Systems. Retrieved from http://www.averaecare.org/ecare/who-we-serve/health-care-systems/.