Rural Healthcare

Mobile Technology: Bringing Better Healthcare to Rural America 

Across the United States, cities like Dallas, Seattle, New Orleans, Austin and Phoenix continue to grow in population. Whether it’s for a better job market, warmer weather or other reasons, these parts of the country are drawing more and more residents, especially young adults. According to Pew Research Center, more people have left rural counties for urban, suburban or small metro counties over the past two decades than moved in from those areas. 

Approximately 46 million Americans live in U.S. rural counties, while 175 million reside in its suburbs and small metros and 98 million in urban core counties. Though rural dwellers may enjoy less traffic and pollution, they also typically have less access to healthcare. Rural hospitals handle more than 21.5 million emergency visits each year, but the number of physicians per 10,000 residents in these areas is 13.1 compared to 31.2 in urban environmentsMore than half of rural hospitals are critical access facilities. 

Many rural residents are older, poorer and more likely to have chronic diseases than their urban counterparts. In addition to access to fewer physicians, they face numerous challenges, including long distances to a specialist or major hospital, the cost of travel to a bigger facility, less advanced medical technology and fewer preventive services.  

Though the healthcare industry continues working toward a solution to provide better access to rural residents, the emergence of mobile technology provides the greatest opportunity in decades. Most Americans own a cellphone, with about three-fourths utilizing a smartphone. Even healthcare professionals are in on the act, with an estimated 80 percent of physicians using smartphones and medical apps and nearly 70 percent of clinicians utilizing mobile technology to view patient information such as laboratory results or digital images. 

Mobile on the Move 

One of the biggest advancements benefiting rural U.S. residents is mobile health. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines “mHealth” as “the use of mobile and wireless devices to improve health outcomes, healthcare services and health research. mHealth enables healthcare providers to communicate with their patients and colleagues, no matter their location. mHealth gives rural residents increased access to physicians, health records, patient education and other services. Many physicians believe mHealth apps can improve their patients’ health, and studies have found that the costs of care can be decreased by using mHealth applications for patient-centered care. 

Here are some of the benefits of mobile technology in rural healthcare: 

  • Patient viewing of online health records  
  • Virtual or web-based physician appointments for minor illnesses 
  • Seamless sharing of patient data in real-time between providers 
  • Remote monitoring and electronic transmission of patient data (vital signs) to a provider 
  • Medication reminders for those dealing with a chronic disease 
  • Patient education on diagnoses and treatment options 
  • Scheduling of appointments 
  • Physician access to information on patient prescriptions and possible drug interactions 
  • Healthcare portals for 24/7 communication between patients and providers 
  • Communication of symptoms using mobile phone cameras and/or real-time video streams 
  • Patient tracking of fitness activities 
  • Review of test results 
  • Home monitoring devices for elderly patients 
  • Collection of community healthcare data 

 A Bevy of Benefits 

These uses of mobile technology offer rural residents even more benefits by streamlining care processes and enhancing their healthcare experience. For example, the functionality of electronic prescribing though a mobile device can reduce medical errors. Senior citizens who might otherwise not be able to travel to a large healthcare facility have access to a nurse, physician or other provider from their own home. Those who might not otherwise pay much attention to their health may become more proactive in their own healthcare decisions through support for self-management. Overall, mobile technology makes it possible for information to be shared quickly and easily between patients and healthcare providers without the need for additional robust infrastructure. 

Learn more about how Mobile Mentor is unlocking the massive potential of mobile technology.