At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many healthcare professionals were making predictions about telehealth’s effectiveness and the possibility of its post-pandemic adoption (including me). Nearly a year after the rapid rise in telehealth usage brought on by the virus, we are starting to get a clearer picture of telehealth’s role in the healthcare landscape as we inch closer to post-pandemic life.
Telehealth will likely be a major player in addressing health equity issues that have plagued our communities in recent decades. According to a report by the National Rural Health Association, more than 70 community hospitals closed between 2010 and 2016 and hundreds more are now in danger of closing. The decline of rural hospitals requires that patients in these communities drive long distances and take large amounts of time away from work and family to access in-person medical care. Telehealth may become the primary means of healthcare access for rural communities.
Transportation is often a roadblock to receiving care, not only in terms of distance, but also affordability. Impoverished communities, those who cannot afford a car, or who live in cities without viable public transit have difficulties maintaining their health because of the challenges of making it to an appointment with their physician. Though there are other social determinants of health at play as I will discuss below, telehealth creates an opportunity for those with limited transportation options to receive regular medical care.