Location Shouldn’t Determine Health Care Access
“A zip code shouldn’t determine your future.” It’s common to hear this phrase during discussions about education and school choice. But why should the freedom to choose what’s best for your family stop with education? Families should be able to have the same freedom when it comes to their health care decisions. Now, states are fighting to provide vital health services through telehealth in the digital age.
Telehealth permits hospitals, clinics, and specialty care facilities to offer rural communities high-quality, affordable health care services. Removing obstacles for receipt of health has been one of the few good policy changes during the pandemic. Americans can now receive a variety of services, such as therapy and wellness checks, from the comfort of their homes.
Rural Americans Need Telehealth Services
Data from the CDC show that Americans in rural regions are more likely to die from potentially preventable diseases like heart disease, cancer, and chronic lower respiratory disease. Since 2010, the death rate from chronic lower respiratory disease (such as COPD) and accidental injury has increased by roughly 3% for rural counties. The study also determined that more than half of deaths due to unintentional injury were potentially preventable.
Over 46 million people live in rural regions across the U.S. Many of these residents are older, sicker, and have increased rates of high blood pressure, obesity, and respiratory issues. They also have high rates of poverty, limited access to health care, and are less likely to have health insurance.
Telehealth Shouldn’t Require an In-Person Visit
Since most Mountaineers live in rural areas, access to medical care is important to all West Virginians. Access to vital health resources shouldn’t be contingent on where you live, the doctors available in your community, or your ability to own a car. Policymakers should mitigate barriers to innovation in health care, like certificate of need laws, through affordable options like telehealth.
In fact, recent polling discovered patients and doctors who use telemedicine are highly satisfied with the new health delivery option. 8 in 10 patients are satisfied and, despite more options for in-person care now, more than a third continue using digital health care. A similar AMA survey for doctors found that more than 80% of physicians find that telehealth provides better access to care for patients.
More importantly, recent modifications to telehealth laws, such as audio-only delivery, permit more integration for digital health. This increases telehealth access for areas with connectivity issues or no internet services. A 2021 Pew Research Center survey reported that nearly 25% of adults with incomes below $30,000 do not own smartphones and 40% do not have home broadband services or a computer.
Telehealth services bring a new sense of autonomy for rural communities. Telehealth empowers patients to choose which doctors they want to see, when they want to see them, and how they wish to receive care. To bridge the health gap for rural communities, it is imperative to allow restriction-free telehealth services.
Jessica Dobrinsky is the Policy Development Associate for the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy.