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A growing demand for telehealth services in rural U.S.

The Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge in Chattanooga, Tenn. (Photo courtesy of Margarita Martín-Hidalgo Birnbaum)

Americans living in rural areas are less likely to use telehealth services than urban residents. The reasons are not unique to them: they may have concerns about giving private information over the internet or don’t know how to find their way around technology. But slow internet speed and reliability problems appear to most affect access to telehealth services in those communities.

That suggests that people in those parts of the United States may not be getting access to quality health care in part because “if you are getting spotty access, you’re not going to have a real consult,” Sinsi Hernández-Cancio, J.D, a vice president at the National Partnership for Women & Families. Hernández-Cancio said the demand for those telehealth services during the coronavirus pandemic underscored the need to upgrade older telecommunications infrastructure in less dense areas of the United States and exposed technological shortcomings in telehealth and user barriers to it.

The state of internet services infrastructure was among the equity measures that health care experts discussed in “The truth about telemedicine: promise and limitations,” a panel at Rural Health Workshop 2022 in Chattanooga, Tenn. The daylong event held on July 14, 2022, included sessions about finding trend data on rural areas and efforts to recruit people to the nursing profession to serve less populated areas of the country.


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