Improving Telehealth Access in Rural Communities

By Consumers For Quality Care, on October 20, 2021

Improving Telehealth Access in Rural Communities

Those hoping rural consumers would utilize telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic to access care, particularly specialty mental health visits, actually saw the opposite occur. According to a blog in Health Affairs, the pandemic boom in telehealth services left rural consumers behind.

Compared to urban consumers, mental health telemedicine appointments for rural consumers were 25 to 30 percent lower during the pandemic. While telemedicine appointments increased overall during the pandemic, they grew at a much slower rate in rural areas compared to urban areas.

Part of this disparity can be attributed to the “digital divide” – a lack of access to technology or capacity to use that technology in rural communities. For example, 40 percent of residents in Mississippi do not have internet access.

One of most effective ways to help more rural residents access mental health care would be to invest in broadband infrastructure, an issue that Congress is currently debating. With telehealth accounting for more than half of all specialty mental health visits, CQC urges policymakers to close the urban-rural disparity that currently exists in accessing valuable telemedicine services.