For those of us who live in or nearby a major city, access to doctors and hospitals may be something we take for granted. But for people in rural areas of the country, the nearest specialist could be a multiple-hour drive away.
To address the doctor shortage – which will likely be compounded when millions more Americans are added to the health insurance system – many rural communities are purchasing video and speaker equipment that enable physicians many miles away to examine and diagnose patients remotely.
This new trend in healthcare, referred to as telemedicine, is making a difference in the rural areas of the country where a quarter of Americans live, but only 9 percent of doctors practice, according to the National Rural Health Association. Further, residents in rural areas are more likely to be uninsured, as well as more likely to be suffering from chronic health issues, like diabetes and heart disease, that require ongoing care by a specialist.
Telemedicine programs exist in states like Georgia, Alaska, Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota where video conference equipment has been placed in schools, clinics, prisons and churches. For non-severe issues, patients may be diagnosed over the internet and their prescriptions will be sent electronically to their local pharmacy.
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