fordable Care Act (ACA),1 the United States is at a strategic inflection point to further integrate telehealth into mainstream health care.
Mary Wakefield, Ph.D., R.N.
Health Resources and Services Administration
Telehealth is a key component in ensuring access to health care services in isolated geographic areas across the United States. More effective deployment of telehealth technologies will enhance our ability to better meet the health care needs of those in rural and frontier parts of the country. However, telehealth is important not just for rural communities, but for any underserved community. This workshop will focus on how we can drive telehealth in an even more robust fashion to improve patient outcomes, and how we can harness telehealth technologies to expand the reach of scarce health resources. That is, how can we capitalize on the promise and the opportunity of telehealth, with an obvious recognition of some of the challenges we have yet to overcome? There is no better time than right now to think about the role that telehealth can play in what is clearly a rapidly evolving health care environment.
When it comes to isolated populations, rural parts of the nation have real challenges. The rural population, nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population, is spread across about 80 percent of the nation’s countryside. Rural communities tend to be older, have people with lower incomes, and have higher rates of certain chronic diseases. Rural areas have particular challenges with attracting and retaining health care providers, and some of the smallest hospitals today operate on the thinnest of margins. All of this creates additional barriers for rural populations to obtain health care services in real time. Telehealth applications can be part of the solution.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
The importance of telehealth and its potential will continue to grow, especially as more and more people in rural and isolated areas across the United States are able to seek a full complement of health care services as a result of some of ACA provisions. As the ACA is more fully implemented, especially as the state-based insurance exchanges come online in 2014, there will be a dramatic increase in the numbers of Americans with health care coverage. The ACA expands insurance coverage in places where it is
1 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, P.L. 148, 111th Cong., 2nd sess. (March 23, 2010).