From time-saving checkups to live-saving support, technology is transforming health care. One major change accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic is telehealth, the virtual delivery of health-care services from providers to patients. With relative ease, patients have transitioned from lengthy hurry-up-and-wait office visits to quick and concise online assessments.

Telehealth offers the convenience and flexibility many have become accustomed to in today’s fast-paced world. More important, telehealth makes quality care available to populations that would not have had access to it in the past, including those in rural areas.

Rural residents are more likely to die prematurely from heart disease, cancer, lung disease and stroke, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Sciences. Rural Americans also tend to have higher rates of obesity and diabetes and have an increased risk of suicides and drug overdoses.

Through technology, patients from sparsely populated areas with limited resources can meet remotely with physicians and specialists. These virtual interactions supply providers with crucial information needed to help patients with their physical and mental health. For instance, diabetes patients can take blood sugar readings during online visits. Patients who suffer from depression or other mental health illnesses can attend virtual counseling sessions. In most states, telehealth providers can submit prescriptions to the patient’s pharmacy.

For single, working mom Bonnie McCormack, the advantages of telehealth are significant. McCormack’s daughter, Ciel, was born with a kidney disorder that required dialysis and ultimately a kidney transplant. Every few weeks, McCormack, an upstate New York native who had relocated to the South, would have to leave her home at 4:30 a.m. to drive four hours on dark, winding two-lane roads to get Ciel to a children’s hospital in Tennessee. Sometimes she would make the trek in freezing temperatures and icy conditions. McCormack would miss work, and Ciel would miss school. The drive was stressful, and the wait was exhausting.

Three years after Ciel’s successful kidney transplant, her physicians continue to monitor her progress. Today, her doctor visits often are remote, alleviating some of the pressure in an already uncertain situation. McCormack earns an hourly wage, so if she misses work, she won’t be paid. The flexibility of telehealth allows McCormack to plan appointments around her work schedule and Ciel’s schooling.

“I’m so grateful when we are able to have virtual visits,” McCormack said. “Instead of worrying about missing work and traveling to the doctor’s office, I am able to put all my energy and focus on Ciel’s health.”

Kate Roberts, founder and CEO of The Body Agency, saw a disparity in the ease and affordability of telehealth not just for rural Americans but for people around the world. She set up Connect Care services through The Body Agency, which offers online medical consultations. The service assists patients in finding knowledgeable providers and helps in negating the stigma some feel when discussing female health.

“You don’t necessarily want to go to the doctor and talk about sexual desire or menopause,” Roberts said. “Once you’re at the doctor, it’s often the case that the doctor is not specialized in these areas, and it’s frustrating. The Body Agency offers Connect Care to combat those issues.”

Telemedicine had a rocky start, but its necessity was spawned from COVID-19 restrictions, bringing rapid advancements to affordability and accessibility. Most insurance plans, including Medicare, now cover telehealth. Malpractice insurance for remote health care typically requires providers to be licensed in the state where they are practicing as well as the states where their patients are located.

In an online interview, Dr. Kelly Casperson, a urologist and Body Board member, spoke about the implementation of telemedicine. Casperson advises The Body Agency on gaps in health care. While Casperson uses telemedicine in her practice, she said online health care had its share of problems in the beginning.

“Telemedicine has been clunky for a long time. It’s been expensive for a long time. Getting insurance to pay for it has not always been a known entity,” Casperson said. “So, there are a lot of reasons why I think a lot of people didn’t adopt it.”

Casperson said recent conditions have helped with transition to telemedicine, including better insurance coverage and the simplicity of virtual visits. She said with streamlined technology, if practitioners and patients are looking to make the move to telehealth, “the time is now.”

Written by Karen Henry

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