Study Confirms the Power of Telemedicine in Rural Areas

A recent study confirmed what many in rural America already knew: technology can have a profound impact on the health of Americans living in areas without access to the luxuries available to those in large, urban areas. More specifically, a University of California at Davis study found that the quality of emergency room pediatric care in rural areas improved when pediatric specialists were able to consult with patients via videoconferencing.

Interestingly, the study found that doctors in rural emergency rooms are more likely to alter their diagnosis and their patient’s course of treatment after consulting with a specialist via a live, interactive videoconference. The study also found that these changes in diagnoses occurred more often than when an emergency room pediatrician simply consulted with a specialist by phone.

Access to pediatric specialists through videoconferencing is particularly important for kids in rural emergency rooms. Rural hospitals often lack specialists and other tools necessary to treat certain pediatric patients.  The study found that while about one in five U.S. children live in rural areas, only 3% of pediatric specialists work in rural areas.

The author of the study, James Marcin, M.D., said it best: “The bottom line is that this readily available technology can and should be used to improve the quality of care delivered to critically ill children when there are no pediatric specialists available in their own communities. People say a picture is worth a thousand words. With medicine, video conferencing brings us right to the bedside, allowing us to see what’s happening and collaborate with on-site doctors to provide the best possible care to our patients.”

Rural areas often lack access to a library just around the corner, top educational intuitions and experts, and medical specialists  — items that that folks in urban areas take for granted, and that can improve and even extend the lives of residents. But technology is closing the gap, and, as this study notes, the best medical experts in the nation — or even the world — can be accessed virtually to improve patient care wherever Americans may happen to live.

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