Skip to main content
Telehealth Insights

Healthcare Deserts: How Virtual Care Can Help Meet Patients Where They Are

It’s 2022, and society’s ability to communicate virtually is becoming a standard practice. Virtual connections allow people to live farther away from each other and still be in touch. Once rural areas are becoming suburban neighborhoods as the population is outpacing the space in urban areas.

However, as a result of this growth, nearly 34 million people in the United States live in healthcare deserts, where their access to nearby, in-person healthcare is limited. To complicate matters, the escalating nursing shortage impacts how, where, and when patients can receive care.

We know that, as a pediatrician, you prioritize providing high-quality care to children, while also making sure that families can access your services when they need them. But how can you meet families where they are? With online care solutions, like telehealth appointments and virtual nurse triage! Let’s dive in and explore these valuable options.

What is a Healthcare Desert?

A healthcare desert is an area where the population does not have adequate access to medical professionals, including primary care providers, dentists, pharmacists, and other health personnel. How does this affect pediatrics? Some parents might view well visits as burdensome if they live far away from healthcare facilities. After all, long travel times to and from the doctor’s office — with kids in tow — are especially stressful and undesirable. Some families might ask the question: Why check in when everything is going well? In addition, living in a healthcare desert can result in substantial delays for sick appointments because parents have to plan in advance to make the long trek into town.

For these families, virtual care solutions allow them to connect to a triage nurse or their trusted pediatrician for medical advice. You’ll be able to meet your patients and their families where they are and address whatever unique challenges they’re facing.

How is the Nursing Shortage Impacting Healthcare?

Geography is not the only factor when it comes to healthcare shortages. The current shortage of qualified nurses is especially dire, leaving many healthcare facilities understaffed. In fact, recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that one million new registered nurses are needed to replace the seasoned nurses who are set to retire by the end of this year.

By implementing telehealth nursing as an option, facilities will be able to treat more patients who might otherwise suffer from a lack of care. Telehealth means that nurses can virtually triage patients in areas that do not have nearby healthcare providers. With solutions like Anytime After Hours, your patients and their parents can talk to an experienced registered nurse about their symptoms regardless of their location. You can rest assured that your patients will receive reliable medical advice because our nurses utilize Schmitt-Thompson protocols to guide your patients to the appropriate level of care.

How Does Telemedicine Improve Patient Care in Healthcare Deserts?

Research shows that regular check-ins with a pediatrician or primary care provider have many benefits. Patients receive better care, they spend less on healthcare, and their risk for premature death is decreased tenfold. But these preventative services and their benefits are inaccessible to those living in healthcare deserts. Telemedicine bridges this gap.

Patients are able to check in for appointments from the comfort of their own homes and don’t have to worry about rising gas prices and transportation. Telemedicine can facilitate complex care by making it simpler for children to be seen by multiple specialists connected in one visit when needed. It’s also easier for patients to be evaluated in order to maintain medication refills or follow up on an existing condition when virtual services are offered.

In addition, Anytime Pediatrics’ after-hours triage system allows patients and parents to call your exchange and be met with a registered nurse equipped to evaluate your patient. This can drive down unnecessary emergency room visits and keep care in the medical home. Our nurses educate parents on ways to manage their child’s symptoms at home when appropriate or determine if a next-day virtual visit versus immediate in-person care is needed.

How Can Telehealth Better Serve Pediatric Patients?

Traditional in-office appointments require parents to take time off work and for their children to miss school. However, virtual appointments offer the flexibility to easily schedule during the early morning hours before work and school even start. Some families might prefer slots in the late afternoon or early evening after work and school commitments are done for the day. These options lessen the strain on parents and children, encouraging them to keep their scheduled appointments.

Another creative idea is school-based telehealth, a system that would allow for three-way visits including the clinician, the school nurse and child, and the child’s parents. Offering telehealth services at schools not only increases appointment flexibility, but also promotes holistic care as the child’s entire care team is able to be present at appointments to voice their assessments, concerns, and treatment plan.

Takeaways About Healthcare Deserts and Telehealth

In order to increase access to pediatric care in healthcare deserts, it’s vital for organizations to identify the barriers that exist for patients. Telehealth enables the sharing and stretching of resources across multiple locations from one central hub. Virtual care also offers patients an opportunity to receive the care they desire in an environment that matches their needs.

Anytime Pediatrics accommodates the growing need for high-quality care and nursing guidance through virtual appointments and after-hours triage. For more information on implementing telehealth or after-hours services in your practice, contact us today to request a consultation