Rural communities face significantly worse health outcomes compared to their urban counterparts. Over the past fifty years, life expectancy in urban areas has increased much faster than in rural areas. Life expectancy in urban areas is now more than three years greater than in rural areas.
As recently recognized by the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association, telehealth and telemedicine, which both require high-speed internet, can help mitigate this growing inequality. A March 2020 joint “Call to Action” by both associations discusses the many factors that lead to rural health inequality and calls for investment in broadband as one component of a comprehensive strategy to address this critical problem.
Multiple studies support the ability of telehealth and telemedicine to improve health outcomes and quality of care. A 2013 Veterans Affairs study involving 900 patients found that telehealth could reduce ER visits by 40%, hospital admissions by 63%, and nursing home days of care by 88%. A 2006 University of Minnesota Medical School study found that home-based, nursing care supplemented with video consultant and remote monitoring reduced discharges to a higher level of care by 64%. A 2018 review of telemedicine in cardiology found that post-hospitalization telemedicine improves outcomes and reduces readmissions for patients with heart failure, arrythmias and implantable devices. Post-pandemic the need for telehealth and telemedicine is likely to be even more apparent.