Survey Highlights the Benefits of Telehealth in Rural Communities > Hospital Association of Pennsylvania


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Survey Highlights the Benefits of Telehealth in Rural Communities

June 24, 2019

A recent survey by National Public Radio (NPR), the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health sheds new light on the struggles rural families face with affordability and accessibility of vital health care services.

Four in ten adults in rural communities have reportedly struggled to pay their medical, housing, or food bills during the past few years. Additionally, households earning less than $50,000 a year say they would have a problem paying off a $1,000 bill right away.

Most individuals living in rural areas have health insurance. However, issues of health care access and affordability continue to be a persistent problem. One-quarter surveyed report they lack adequate health care access, resulting in 26 percent of respondents saying there had been times in the past they needed health care but did not get it.

The rural adults surveyed gave potential reasons for why they are unable to get health care, including:

  • Could not afford health care
  • Health care location was too far/difficult to get to
  • Could not get an appointment during hours needed
  • Could not find a doctor who would take their health insurance
  • Hospital closures

Issues of affordability and accessibility are reported as significant issues among rural residents. One of the solutions many rural families turn to that addresses both the cost and access challenges is telehealth.

The majority of rural telehealth patients reported feeling satisfied with their treatment or consultation. Telehealth provides rural families with access, but not all insurance companies are willing to cover the cost.

Approximately 41 percent of telehealth patients reported being charged by their health insurance for their visit, while 22 percent said their health insurance covered none of the bill. Only 14 percent of patients reported their bill being fully covered by their health insurance company.

In Pennsylvania, 48 out of 67 counties are considered rural, and their residents face similar health care challenges as those in other rural areas around the country. Telehealth continues to be a viable alternative for rural communities.

HAP continues to support access to care for rural Pennsylvanians, through:

  • Increase in the number of trained and licensed allied health professionals able to provide health care in rural communities
  • Reductions in reporting burdens, and revisions to quality measures to ensure they are outcomes-based and meaningful to rural providers and patients  
  • Advances in telehealth and remove barriers to remote care such as reimbursement, cross-state licensure issues, and administrative and financial burdens
  • Support for state and federal opioid strategies, given the disproportionate impact the opioid epidemic is having on rural communities
  • Promotion of patient and family engagement programs and stronger patient-provider relationships

For additional information about HAP’s rural advocacy efforts, contact Kate Slatt, senior director, innovative payment and care delivery.

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