Whether it’s a smartphone or a calculator, many people have technology right at their fingertips. With the world continuing to advance technologically, rural areas tend to be left behind. However, some technological advancements are benefitting rural areas in particular. Technological advancements in the medical world are saving lives and improving healthcare in rural areas.
5 Technologies Improving Healthcare in Rural Areas
- Virtual health services – Virtual health services launch the list as one of the most popular, accessible healthcare advances. Prior to telehealth technology, all prescriptions were provided by a live pharmacist. Today, patients may communicate with their doctors and request prescriptions remotely. Live chat and video rooms provide healthcare for remote patients from the comfort of their homes. A recent survey found around 67% of U.S. adults are willing to try virtual healthcare; although, only around 20% have tried telehealth so far. It seems telehealth is here for good and here to stay.
- Virtual reality – Virtual reality is also improving healthcare in rural areas. Purdue University created augmented reality technology that may assist inexperienced doctors and surgeons. This newly emerging technology allows a more experienced medical professional to see the patient and lead the responder through the procedure. Preliminary trials show doctors in rural areas benefit from virtual reality technology. With fewer tools and materials to work with, feedback from a better trained professional can be critical. Juan Wachs, the leader of Purdue’s augmented reality research team, hopes that this new technology will decrease “the number of casualties while maximizing treatment at the point of injury.”
- 3D printing – Another healthcare advancement that benefits patients in remote locations is 3D printing. Before 3D printing became widespread, prosthetics would take weeks to make and could cost as much as $15,000. While the price of a prosthetic varies, 3D printing greatly reduces the cost. For example, biomechanics professor Dr. Jorge Zuniga from the University of Nebraska 3D printed a prosthetic hand for around $50. When 3D printing emerged, not only did prices decrease significantly, so did production time. A Canadian company called Nia Technologies predicts that a 3D printed model can be done in six hours. Therefore, 3D printing is particularly beneficial to patients in need of urgent care or with limited funds. As a result, advancements in prosthetic production benefit people in both rural and urban areas.
- Electronic medical records (EMRs) – EMR is a networking system created by Sanford Health in South Dakota. EMR keeps track of patient and treatment data. This database helps establish a standard treatment for common medical conditions. Additionally, EMR reminds medical professionals to follow up with their patients. For example, if a nurse finds a patient has high blood pressure, EMR prompts the nurse to follow up with their patient, ensuring the patient checks in with their primary care provider. So far, Sanford Health’s EMR program has been implemented at 45 hospitals and over 300 small clinics; about two million individuals living in the Dakota areas are benefitting from the EMR platform. Technology like EMR may be used to increase efficiency and quality of treatment in other rural areas as well.
- Mobile Stroke Units (MSUs) – Mobile stroke units also benefit patients in rural areas. An MSU is an ambulance-like vehicle that specializes in diagnosing and caring for patients who suffer from strokes. In places like rural Australia, MSUs are crucial for patients since strokes require urgent care. While 77% of urban patients have access to stroke units in hospitals or clinics, only 3% percent of rural patients have access. With the aid of Mobile Stroke Units, rural patients have a better chance of getting critical care in time.
Because rural areas are difficult to reach, healthcare is often less accessible. Travel costs are a barrier to healthcare, particularly for people in poverty. However, innovative technological advancements like these continue to improve the quality, cost, and accessibility of healthcare in rural areas.
– Karina Wong