People living in rural areas face challenges that can take a toll on their mental health. Some of the challenges are low wages, limited job opportunities and a lack of social capital. Things get difficult because it is harder to access mental health care in rural America.
Rural hospital challenges are unique. But telemedicine is helping to close the gap in treatments available in rural areas. At Meridian Health Services in Indiana, integrating telemedicine has reduced the wait time for new patient visits with a psychologist from months to days, according to NPR.
Meridian's chief medical officer Dr. Sarfraz Khan said that it is lifesaving. Meridian found it tough to deliver mental health services because they couldn’t find doctors willing to work in rural areas. There was a time when they began to consider if providing psychiatric services would be viable as nobody preferred to come to small towns.
Now things have changed. Doctors don’t need to come to small towns to work. They work from a central location in Indianapolis. Patients visit the rural clinics for their appointment where the nurse takes their vitals and sets them up with a two-way screen for a teleconference with a doctor from the city.
Some patients find it easier to share their challenges and speak more as it helps to be honest. When doctors are sitting in front of the patients, they find it difficult to say everything or say as much.
Texas’s DeWitt County has no practicing psychiatrists. Lynn Falcone, CEO of Cuero Health said that they did not have adequate access to mental care in DeWitt County. Falcone knew that it was tough to find a psychiatrist who would practice in the area. So, she reached out for a group providing telemedicine services. Now, the patients at Cuero Regional Hospital can have telemedicine appointments with a psychiatrist.
Rural hospitals are turning to telemedicine, especially for mental health services. Rural areas are hit hard as they don’t have access to mental health services but, telemedicine provides a solution to these challenges.