With recent improvements in technology, telehealth services are growing as a key addition to in-person healthcare monitoring for patients of all kinds. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine is more popular than ever, especially among vulnerable populations like those with chronic illnesses.
But there are significant gaps in telehealth equity that make this critical tool inaccessible for many people. Often, these people are the ones who would benefit the most from remote health monitoring technology.
What Prohibits Access to Telehealth Services?
As technology advances, access to remote healthcare monitoring is growing, but there are still several groups of people who have difficulty accessing these tools. Some of the barriers to access include:
- Low income
- Spotty rural internet access
- Insufficient insurance coverage
- Low digital literacy
People with limited funds often have difficulty accessing medical care at all. Demanding work schedules, limited access to childcare, and the cost of transportation and medical bills can all be barriers to access for low-income families. Telehealth services would be an ideal solution, but many people in these situations don’t have access to the necessary technology, providers that offer the services, or appropriate insurance coverage.Although remote healthcare monitoring systems are common in wealthy areas, providers that are accessible to poorer areas are less likely to offer these services. This may be due to a lack of perceived interest or the cost of implementing remote patient monitoring tools.
Spotty Rural Internet Access
Many specialized healthcare services are relegated to urban areas, forcing rural patients to commute to receive care. Although these areas would be ideal candidates for remote patient monitoring technology, rural areas often lack reliable internet access.
Homes located in small villages or out in the country may have only one or two options for internet providers, if any, and the services these providers offer are often extremely limited. Many rural populations experience frequent internet outages or slow service, making telehealth appointments difficult, if not impossible.
Insufficient Insurance Coverage
Remote healthcare monitoring is often safer and more cost-effective for both the patient and the provider than in-person care, yet most standard health insurance plans refuse to cover telehealth. This means that patients seeking telemedicine appointments are often forced to pay out of pocket, creating a barrier to those who can’t afford healthcare without insurance.
Low Digital Literacy
Even if a patient has access to the funds and technology needed for telehealth services, they may not know how to use the technology. Some patients may not be aware that remote health monitoring technology is an option. Others may lack education on how to use a computer or the accompanying telehealth interfaces.
Poor digital literacy disproportionately affects the elderly and disabled, who frequently have difficulty traveling to appointments and suffer from chronic health conditions, making them ideal telehealth candidates.
How Can Providers Help?
There are many ways you can help bridge the equity gap in telehealth services.
Expand your availability to low-income, rural, and other underserviced areas. Taking on patients from these areas via virtual services may help them access medical care they would not otherwise receive.
Teach Your Patients
Educate digitally naive patients on health platforms. Offer digital health literacy classes or go over your specific telehealth platform during individual appointments. Consider dedicating additional staff to provide technical support for patients or choose a platform with tech support included.
Refer low-income and rural patients to organizations that can help them acquire internet access. Many service providers participate in the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program, which seeks to make internet access affordable for marginalized and low-income people. Some organizations also offer devices such as computers, tablets, and smartphones to further expand access.
Retain Existing Care Options
Reassure your patients that they will still have access to in-person care. For those who are unable to access telehealth services yet, can’t afford them without insurance, or are uncomfortable with online services, this reassurance can be critical in ensuring that they continue to prioritize their health.
Research Your Options
Choose a virtual health platform with a user-friendly interface to make it easier for digitally naive patients to access the services. A platform that uses an intuitive smartphone app to track patient data is ideal, since most people have access to a smartphone.
Some telehealth platforms are also eligible for insurance reimbursements to cover some or all of the services. This can help curb any prohibitive costs for low-income patients.
The surest way to find out what is keeping your patients from accessing these services is to ask them. Whether you ask during appointments or send out a survey, find out about their barriers to access and come up with tailored solutions based on their responses.
To find out whether CoachCare is the remote patient monitoring platform for you, schedule a demo today.