Improving access to healthcare in rural Georgia

Since 2013, six hospitals in rural Georgia have closed. Patients who live in southwest Georgia or northeast Georgia are commuting an hour to five hours to get to a specialist appointment.

Due to the shortage of physicians and healthcare professionals, patients in these communities have for a long time been unable to receive adequate assistance. Georgia ranks 41st amongst states on the measure of overall access to health care.

As a health policy fellow at Morehouse School of Medicine, I have been examining the ways in which the implementation of telemedicine can reduce healthcare disparities in rural Georgia.

A global survey of ten nations by CISCO in 2013, which included the United States, reported that 74% of patients are open to accessing healthcare services via telehealth and 70% of patients said they were comfortable communicating with providers via text, email, or video, in lieu of an in-office visit.

There are thousands of completed research studies that consider the clinical efficacy of telemedicine, with evidence of successful use cases in areas of heart disease and diabetes management, for example. However, it is important to note as Professor Leonard Gray, Dr Denise O’Connor and Bianca Phillips highlight in their recent article that “For rural and remote patients, an acceptable outcome might be that telemedicine has a “similar” outcome (eg, using a non-inferiority design) to conventional consultation. Even a slightly inferior outcome might be acceptable as, in many cases, this might be better than the outcomes secured with no interaction whatsoever".

Telemedicine is being utilised in Georgia to reduce healthcare disparities. The Georgia Department of Public Health, Office of Telehealth & Telemedicine have been proactive, with 28 services already in place and a growing telemedicine network underway.

Indeed, my research thus far has confirmed that telemedicine is a valid solution for improving access to healthcare services in rural Georgia. Given that telehealth could be applied to numerous specialty areas including neurology, radiology, dermatology, pediatrics, psychiatry, and chronic disease management, the potential for patients to receive holistic care is encouraging.

Physicians and others working in digital health are free to contact me to discuss the various initiatives within the State of Georgia, as well as the broader legal and policy considerations.

Chelsea Ukoha, JD.

Juris Doctor, Howard University School of Law. Chelsea holds a BA., cum laude, in Sociology and a minor in legal studies from Texas Tech University.

Chelsea Ukoha is a Health Policy Leadership Fellow, Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine. As a fellow, Chelsea expands her knowledge of the intersection of law, health, and policy to advance health equalities. She is committed to bridging the gap between legal advocates, health care professionals, and healthcare providers in order to improve the disparities within the health care system. Therefore, Chelsea has devoted her time working and interning with various sectors in the health law field, such as, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Whitman-Walker Health. She currently serves on the a Young Professionals Council of the American Health Lawyers Association.

#digitalhealth #telemedicine #Georgia