In honor of National Rural Health Day on November 20, it’s important to recognize the challenges — and opportunities — facing health care providers in delivering the highest quality care to rural populations. Our recent survey of senior-level health care executives shows that telemedicine technology is becoming a key way of improving the access and quality of care for these communities.

According to the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health (NOSORH), approximately one in five Americans lives in a rural/frontier area. While nearly 85 percent of U.S. residents can reach a Level I or Level II trauma center within an hour, only 24 percent of residents living in rural areas can do so within that time frame.

Implementing Telemedicine Technology Is the Solution

Half of the respondents in our survey overwhelmingly identified quality of care as their primary motivation for implementing telemedicine. In terms of what telemedicine practices these providers have in place, a majority of respondents already offer remote monitoring (64 percent), store and forward technology (54 percent), and real-time interaction capabilities (52 percent). Additionally, 39 percent say they have services that qualify as mHealth — patient-driven apps and online portals.

Telemedicine Technology Benefits Patients and Businesses

Not only will developing telemedicine technology benefit patients, it’s also proving to be big business for the tech sector. As a recent The Motley Fool article stated, “Reaching more patients at a lower cost while making health care access more convenient — what’s not to like?”

For example, Michigan-based Health Net Connect, the telehealth subsidiary of J&B Medical Supply Co. Inc., is developing a preferred vendor relationship with the United Nations to deliver telehealth devices to remote parts of the world in order to help connect providers with urban medical centers. Health Net Connect projects revenue for 2014 to exceed $18 million, as compared to $1 million in revenue in 2013, and the company is putting plans in place to issue an initial public offering within the next two years to finance its global expansion.

This excitement also is reflected in the rapid growth in interest in telemedicine technologies by the venture capital market. U.S. employers spend approximately $620 billion annually on health care benefits, and investors recognize the role the technology plays in reducing costs. According to Rock Health, a start-up incubator, funding for digital health care technology companies reached $2.3 billion in June of this year — surpassing 2013 investments.

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