A Tele-health policy is the “use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies supporting long-distance clinical health care, health education and health administration,” according to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).


Implementing the tele-health policy in a rural setting is a different story altogether. Here healthcare providers do face multiple challenges like lack of infrastructure, limited health care resources and geographic isolation. Chronic diseases and high mortality rate are common in many rural areas even today. “About 25% of U.S. residents live in rural areas while only 9% of physicians work in such regions,” says a recent Bloomberg news report quoting the National Rural Health Association. “HHS has reported that more than 75% of rural communities in the U.S. have less than one physician for every 3,500 residents, which is the agency’s benchmark for “adequate” care. Expansion of insurance coverage under the health reform law also puts additional pressure on care delivery,” it further adds.

Government Initiatives

The Office for the Advancement of Tele health (OAT) promotes the use of tele-health technologies for health care delivery, education and health information services. The Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) mission ensures quality health care for the underprivileged, vulnerable and populations with special needs. The Rural Health Care program provides funding to eligible health care providers for telecommunications services necessary to improve the quality of health care among rural communities. “The Office of Rural Health is providing nearly $43 million to support the efforts of Home Based Primary Care (HPBC) in several rural areas,” reports the Federal Telemedicine News.

Encouraging Results

Telemedicine can make ‘care’ affordable for the rural population. In an era of blooming healthcare IT, addressing emerging problems can be attended more rapidly. PPACA had in fact reinforced the role of Electronic Health Record (EHR) for effectively managing vital patient data. An EHR is said to be the “heart and soul of telemedicine” because of application advantages in monitoring
patient health records. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has successfully implemented a tele-health program covering 36,000 patients some time back with remarkable reduction in hospital admissions. Several states, including Georgia, are adopting tele-health technology to address a shortage of physicians in rural areas. “The Georgia initiative has helped to improve students’ access to physicians in rural county schools. Alaska, Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota are the other states that have taken up similar endeavors,” remarks the Bloomberg feature.

Steps to be Taken

“A good Tele-Health policy would enable offering of value added solutions to the needy in the rural areas in a low cost setting,” says Thomas Nesbitt, associate vice chancellor for strategic technologies and alliances at the University of California-Davis. The iPhone and Android medical apps would certainly make the tasks of rural healthcare providers easier. Considering the alternative choice of building scores of hospitals across the breadth and length of the country, it appears there is hardly an option left, except to pursue the tele-health policy. However, it can be made 100% successful only when the concept gets wider acceptance. That is where the government and industry needs to collaboratively focus upon going forward.