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Rural Health Information Hub

Telehealth Use in Rural Areas

Rural communities are increasingly using telehealth to overcome persistent barriers to accessing care. The Barriers to Telehealth Access in Rural Areas page in this toolkit describes these barriers in the context of rural telehealth programs. In addition to increasing access to care, a November 2018 Economic Research Service report stated that rural residents are using telehealth to conduct online research about health issues; online health maintenance, such as scheduling appointments, reviewing medical accounts, communicating with health providers; and online health monitoring using medical devices.

A study by Harvard Medical School found that, among rural Medicare beneficiaries, telemedicine use increased by 28% each year from 2004 to 2013. Further, a RUPRI Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis policy brief reported that approximately one-third of both urban and rural hospitals used telehealth to increase access to specialty care. In comparison to urban hospitals, rural hospitals were more likely to report using telehealth for emergency medicine and radiology.

The following provide a general overview of telehealth use in different rural health contexts:

Resources to Learn More

Extent of Telehealth Use in Rural and Urban Hospitals
Discusses the use of telehealth in rural and urban hospitals, and provides statistics on hospital characteristics and common departments and programs with telehealth services. Describes opportunities for telehealth to support healthcare in rural communities.
Author(s): Ward, M.M., Ullrich, F., & Mueller, K.
Organization(s): RUPRI Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis
Date: 2014

Information on Medicare Telehealth
Describes Medicare populations that would benefit from expanded telehealth services, including rural populations. Discusses types of services that could be provided through telehealth and barriers to increasing the capacity of telehealth services.
Organization(s): Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
Date: 11/2018

MedPAC Report to the Congress: Medicare Payment Policy, 2018 - Chapter 16: Mandated Report: Telehealth Services and the Medicare Program
Describes Medicare coverage of telehealth services and feasibility of incorporating telehealth services covered by commercial insurers under Medicare Fee-for-Service models. Discusses considerations for expanding Medicare coverage of telehealth services.
Organization(s): Medicare Payment Advisory Commission
Date: 3/2018

Telehealth in Rural America
Discusses the use of telehealth in rural areas, related reimbursement challenges, and provides recommendations to the Secretary of Health and Human Services for improving healthcare access and quality through the use of telehealth services.
Organization(s): National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services
Date: 3/2015