Access to internet and other telehealth resources
Telehealth is a natural fit to cover healthcare gaps in rural and frontier locations. But the nature of rural living often means difficulty accessing the tools and resources needed for a successful and sustainable telehealth practice.
Internet access for rural telehealth patients and providers
Reliable internet access is crucial if your telehealth program will rely on video chats. Dropped calls or bad connections can lead to distrust and frustration for patients who may already be wary of telehealth.
Broadband is the preferred internet source for telehealth programs, but it is not yet available in some of the most rural and remote parts of the U.S. You may consider using a mobile hotspot that can bounce off a strong cell signal, if available.
Affordability can be another concern when it comes to rural telehealth programs. The Rural Health Information Hub keeps a list of grants and other funding opportunities for broadband access.
Internet access for patients
Your patients may also have difficulty finding or affording internet access in rural areas. The federal Affordable Connectivity Program can help your patients get internet service and even a discount on electronics that can be used for telehealth.
Program benefits include:
- A discount toward internet service of up to $30 per month (up to $75 per month for households on qualifying tribal lands)
- A one-time discount of up to $100 toward a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet
Equipment and technology access for rural telehealth
Internet access is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to setting up a rural telehealth practice. Providers will need to set up a technology infrastructure to be able to provide telehealth to rural and frontier patients and providers.
If your practice is in a non-rural area and you are expanding to include rural telehealth, you may already have much of what you need.
Equipment for rural telehealth may include:
- Computers and software for electronic health records and a patient portal
- A computer or device with a front-facing camera or a webcam for video calls
- A landline phone for calls to rural areas without reliable internet service or cell signal
- Programs to receive and manage data sent by your patients’ remote monitoring devices
- Programs, software, and data to receive large files or images for provider-to-provider telehealth
Solutions for rural telehealth technology challenges
Video chats are the most common form of telehealth, but there are several other ways to use telehealth with patients and rural providers. Audio-only telehealth appointments were approved as a modality during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Several states have also passed audio-only legislation.
Other solutions include:
- Phone calls in between appointments
- Secure messages through patient portals
- Text messaging
- Asynchronous communication, such as sharing files, images, documents, test results, or symptom diaries
- Connecting from a local health clinic
Rural technology resources:
Connectivity Considerations for Telehealth Programs — Rural Health Information Hub
Health Information Technology in Rural Healthcare — Rural Health Information Hub