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Overcoming Rural Telehealth Challenges featured

Overcoming Rural Telehealth Challenges

By Author: Wyatt Oren In Business

Imagine being unable to get a clear image during a video call with your child’s doctor, or the connection dropping during an important discussion about your test results. For millions of rural Americans, this isn’t a hypothetical – it’s a frustrating reality. While high-speed internet has transformed access to healthcare in many areas, rural communities are often left behind.

Challenges in rural telehealth

Several factors complicate overall healthcare delivery in rural areas, including aging demographic profiles, extensive geographic coverage, and lack of reliable transportation. While telehealth has the potential to provide access to quality healthcare, limited internet connectivity has prevented widespread adoption in rural and remote areas.

In fact, in the US, there are 60 million+ people in rural areas struggling to receive quality care. The main reason for this stark disparity – internet quality. Just 72% of rural areas have access to high-speed internet. While high-speed WiFi and cell service may be seen as the standard for most Americans, there are still many without access to quality internet for something as important as a telehealth visits.

The impact of subpar internet connectivity in rural regions is considerable. When attempting to receive virtual care, patients grappling with inferior internet quality may face issues like:

  • Inability to connect to a consultation
  • Dropped calls
  • Video and audio freezes
  • Severe lag and delay in audio and video

These technical issues prevent clear communication and the ability for providers to see patients via video, ultimately limiting the efficacy of telehealth. If not properly addressed these issues prevent diagnosis, or worse, lead to misdiagnoses. These consequences can significantly affect those requiring access to quality healthcare.

How can technology address these challenges?

For healthcare providers looking to serve rural areas, it is important to look beyond the status quo and produce new, effective ways to make doctors accessible. For example, certain organizations in rural parts of Oregon have adopted a text-based approach where patients can text doctors to get help. But providers can do better.

Improving the approach to video and audio communication is another path.

Real-time video technology now has the capacity to accommodate lower video resolutions and lower bitrates, using newer codecs (like VP9) to provide high-quality video feeds in low bandwidth environments. Other video communication advancements like perceptual video coding, packet loss reduced, and optimizations for older devices can drastically reduce bandwidth requirements while maintaining fluency and clarity.

On the audio side, adding in a PSTN integration that allows patients to call in to a telehealth session via a phone also expands audio access to anyone with a working cell phone or landline. It is also essential for telehealth solutions to support all types of devices, both new, old, including wearables, like the Apple Watch.

Healthcare providers can benefit by implementing a telehealth technology vendor that specializes in serving traffic in remote, rural areas. Telehealth solutions like Agora are making it easy for providers to embed this advanced video and audio calling technology directly into their website or mobile application using an SDK (Software Development Kit) to facilitate smooth, reliable conversations anywhere. Agora’s real-time network was built specifically for real-time video and voice to ensure seamless communication, even under poor local network conditions.

These advances in technology present an exciting moment for the healthcare industry to take a patient-first approach to solve this problem of rural access to healthcare.