The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) https://www.bipartisanpolicy.org, http://twitter#BPClive recently announced establishing their Rural Health Task Force. The task force is going to examine policy solutions to rightsizing healthcare services to better fit community needs, ways to create appropriate payment models for services provided, how to strengthen the rural workforce, and importantly expand telemedicine services in rural areas.
Also, at a briefing held June 12, 2019, BPC released a poll with the American Heart Association https://www.heart.org reporting on today’s healthcare challenges facing rural communities. The national poll provides a snapshot of the healthcare challenges and identifies key areas for reform.
Keynote speaker Tom Daschle Former Senate Majority Leader, BPC Co-Founder, and Co-Chair for the BPC Rural Health Task Force, said, “Rural health could be a powerful topic in the 2020 election and should prompt every candidate and policymaker to address the challenges of rural health and then take action. The goal for the task force is to bring critical issues to the forefront both at the national and state level.”
Representative Jodey Arrington from Texas, mentioned the necessity to provide broadband and high speed in order to upgrade the healthcare system along with further utilizing digital health and telemedicine. The national poll asked if rural adults in Texas are more likely than rural adults in Iowa and North Carolina to use technology to reach their doctor or receive care remotely. The poll found that half of rural adults in Texas are likely to use a mobile app to reach their doctor in order to receive medical care remotely.
“Rural healthcare is vital to HHS”, said Peter Urbanowicz HHS Chief of Staff, for the Office of the Secretary. “It is important for HHS to study the needs related to rural health. The issues that currently need to be addressed concern financial situations involving rural hospitals, being flexible in order to move away from how hospitals are designed today, which may mean investing in new models for some rural hospitals.”
A panel discussion moderated by Marilyn Serafini Director of the BPC Health Project https://bipartisanpolicy.org/topics/health was held to discuss the various results and challenges affecting rural communities. According to the BPC and AHA Poll, rural healthcare will probably be an issue in the 2020 election as many rural voters see barriers to accessing medical services or treatments.
The top challenges for rural voters seems to be the cost of healthcare and prescription drugs, availability of appointments, lack of specialty care especially for cancer and cardiac patients, and the distance required to travel to receive care.
Panelist Former Congressman Tom Tauke from Iowa said, “In Iowa, the population in rural communities is older and sicker. When asked in the poll, a majority of rural adults in Iowa agree they would be likely to use the telephone, or use email to reach their doctor, and are also willing to receive medical care remotely”.
The panelists discussed the enormous problem with addiction and mental issues existing in populated areas which is also a deep problem in rural communities. It is especially difficult for rural residents to find treatments so they can overcome addiction or find behavioral health expertise in their communities. Henry Bonilla, Former U.S Representative, Texas, reports, “In addition, in rural areas there can be language barriers related to effectively treating patients.”
To emphasize how effectively technology can work, Jennifer McKay, M.D., Medical Information Officer for Avera Health https://www.avera.org located in Sioux Falls South Dakota, described how Avera eCare serves patients, and supports clinicians with telemedicine teams consisting of experts 24/7. She also mentioned that several problems exist with issues related to interstate licensing and which affects how healthcare gets reimbursed in states.
David Blair, Chairman, Accountable Health Solutions, talked about how telemedicine is very effective in elementary schools. School nurses when confronted with a medical problem are able to contact the child’s physician and establish a connection with the student at the school using technology. The result is that more children are able to return to the classroom and parents do not have to leave work, come to the school and take their child home or perhaps take their child to the emergency room.
Walter Panzirer, Trustee, for The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust https://helmsleytrust.org talked about several problems. For example, hospitals in rural communities may exhibit poor management and may require different governing policies, issues involving hospital closures need to be examined state by state. The use of technology can be life-saving and help the physician to more efficiently treat patients in rural areas. He said, “The amount of money saved by not transferring patients from the home to a physician’s office or to emergency rooms by effectively using telemedicine is staggering.”
The moderator asked the panelists to choose one issue that they think is the most important to address. Panelists want to see developing healthcare services and community hospitals refitted to meet the need in communities, create appropriate payment models for services, strengthen the rural workforce, make a greater effort to attract not only doctors, specialists but also medical students to rural communities, leverage more telemedicine where needed, address Congressional actions so that voters can achieve what they want in 2020 related to healthcare in rural communities.