How Mobile Apps Could Transform Rural Health Care

Clara Ritger | Nextgov | November 11, 2013

When it comes to rural health care, broadband is a matter of life or death.

Rural residents seek services from primary care doctors and emergency rooms, which works if the patient doesn't have a chronic or life-threatening condition. But when they do, rural patients don't always have access to the most comprehensive care. Medical specialists practice in cities, leaving rural doctors to weigh the choice between sending a patient away for treatment—costing both the patient and practice—or keeping them in house, where they risk patient outcomes but keep the paycheck.

Access to health services was an obstacle in rural Colorado, until 2008 when the Colorado Telehealth Network was formed. Rural facilities could transmit x-ray results and other diagnostic tests to larger providers in a matter of minutes, and treatment recommendations from experts located in urban centers could be carried out remotely. Today, 201 facilities are connected to the broadband network that extends across Colorado's 104,000 square miles.

But access to care doesn't improve population health overnight—especially for rural populations where one in four people remain uninsured. The next frontier for improving rural patients' access to health services is mobile applications.