Some of the best stories about successful rural health projects are often from those who offer medical services, or those who benefit from those services. It was inspiring to hear from an Oklahoma woman who cared for her elderly mother, thankful because broadband and telemedicine services meant she no longer had to spend the better part of an hour sending medical data to a hospital over 100 miles away via dial-up service and then wait another hour for medication instructions.
USDA funding for broadband and Distance Learning and Telemedicine services helps connect rural communities to medical services and improve access to quality care from health care experts. For example, Norton Healthcare Foundation in Kentucky provides specialty care to patients in rural communities using telemedicine technology. Providers consult with specialists to determine changes in care and whether care can be managed locally. This reduces unnecessary transfers and allows patients to remain in their community where their support system is.
Telemedicine is especially helpful for patients with limited mobility who require ambulances for transportation. Telemedicine services play a special role in treating opioid addiction and other substance misuse. The rapid increase of medical issues due to opioids has caused Norton to consider adding service areas and technology necessary to help treat opioid patients who otherwise might not receive critical care due to barriers of time and distance.
During 2016, USDA’s Rural Utilities Service invested over $194 million in telecommunications infrastructure and another $27.8 million for Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grants. These investments included 16 awards for $4.5 million to address mental health and substance issues, including opioid addiction.
It’s promising to know that the work we do and the funding we provide can improve the quality of life in rural America.