With the increase in destructive unnatural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and forest fires, communities need to be more prepared for the aftermath with affordable healthcare. Telehealth is a real-time solution that facilitates the provision of healthcare using internet and intranet technologies.

Despite being an inexact science, telehealth still has components that offer robust solutions. The government plans to expand broadband, healthcare, and telehealth, making it the opportune time to develop telehealth and broadband-driven disaster recovery strategies.

Typically, natural disasters have three phases:

  • Unpredictable initial impact
  • Immediate aftershocks
  • Recovery

Telehealth can impact these natural disaster phases in the following ways:

Creating emergency health centers

Often, natural disasters can cause a power outage for a week or more. Advisably, before a disaster, various buildings need to be designated as telehealth and generator zones. The required equipment and telehealth kiosks would be ready for any recovery phase. These would be useful for people without access to power, the internet, or destroyed homes.

Expanding first responder’s reach

In the face of a disaster, first responders tend to receive a considerable share of immediate medical responses. They are equipped to reach out to clinics and hospitals to manage injuries. Paramedic vehicles need to be wirelessly enabled to facilitate patient treatment while heading to the hospital. The cars also need to be fitted with telemedicine tools to expand medical capabilities and healthcare to underserved and unreachable populations.

A broadband foundation

Natural disasters can destroy homes and buildings, making telehealth challenging to access. A community’s broadband network significantly impacts the technology’s ability to get through a disaster and quickly get back online. The broadband network needs to be designed to have less downtime even during a disaster. Telehealth stakeholders need to work with communities and cities to set up broadband that facilitates telehealth and disaster response.

In a nutshell, when properly implemented, telehealth can revolutionize how we prepare for and recover from disasters. It will help reduce mortality rates and improve access to general healthcare.

It is no secret that rural communities are struggling with a shortage of medical providers. With fewer specialists, hospitals, and general practitioners to provide healthcare to remote areas, patients may not be able to secure the level of care they need for both acute and chronic conditions.

One of the solutions to this healthcare crisis is rural area telemedicine, which allows doctors to monitor patients as well as consult with colleagues who may be some distance away. Unfortunately, telemedicine may not be the answer for every rural community, thanks to limited internet access and other factors that can prevent patients from receiving the medical care they desperately need.

Why It Matters

Think about why patients may not be able to receive adequate healthcare within their rural areas. Physician retention may be a problem, and what physicians are close by may be pushed to the limits, serving more patients than they may have time to treat.

That leaves some doctors on the verge of burnout and some patients with the choice of going great distances to seek out medical treatment, which in turn costs more for them and takes dollars out of their communities. Patients may have to take off work, or worse, forego preventive care or monitoring until their conditions worsen or become urgent.
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Lack of Infrastructure

While it would be wonderful if every area had the same level of broadband internet service, the reality is that many rural communities are underserved. Part of the issue is inadequate utilities as well as slow internet access.

If broadband providers determine that an area is not profitable, they may not invest in the infrastructure in that community, which in turn limits patients who rely on telemedicine for gaps in their healthcare.

The Issue of Bandwidth

Bandwidth, or the rate at which data can be transferred, can be another factor that impacts rural area telemedicine. Medical software programs and technology may require quite a bit of bandwidth, leading to a slowdown of internet access throughout the community.

Some technology companies recognize this limitation of telemedicine effectiveness and are working to develop new software that does not strain bandwidth or slow internet connections. Until these programs are widely available, however, the issue of speed and other barriers to connectivity may persist.

Seeing the Light

Fortunately, researchers and regulating agencies continue to study barriers to rural area telemedicine and find answers to overcome them. As more healthcare and insurance providers recognize the benefits and cost benefits of telemedicine, they may work together to address slow internet access and infrastructure inadequacies to make access to healthcare easier for rural communities. View our Urgent Care Telemedicine Services