Understanding the Economic Impact of Telehealth in Rural Communities

By Jay Weems, Founding Board Member, American Board of Telehealth; Vice President, Operations, Avera eCARE

My corporate upbringing concentrated on launching new product and services, a logical career path where I could use my financial and economic expertise to help existing companies improve their marketing and development efforts. Think co-branded credit cards, ATM funding and banking experience in California, Colorado and South Dakota, a pathway that eventually led to business development and consumer behavior research for a health care payer’s home delivery pharmacy.

These experiences supported my transition in 2009 to health care and Avera where I led the team to introduce Avera eCARE Pharmacy and Avera eCARE Emergency. The successful launch of these two services and others throughout my career prospered on one common denominator: a cohesive effort with teams that nimbly adjust and quickly react to many iterations to reach a common goal.

In my experience, adjustments are always easier to make based on market research, an ability to take calculated risks and perform as good stewards of funding. In fact, the Avera eCARE system now touches more than 1.5 million patients in over 420 locations as the largest telemedicine operation from a single source in the country.

Those quality telehealth services are important to all of us, but especially in rural communities that thrive on investment in their city or town. I know this from growing up in rural South Dakota and traveling hours each way with my family to a community hospital for medical care.

Now, telehealth services offer quality care to so many people where they are and when they need it. When I think of my relatives in rural communities, I know they don’t have to drive 3 hours for medical care. Rather than spending their money on travel expenses to see a distant health care provider, they can support their local communities economically, by obtaining care locally and shopping and eating in their home towns.

From a business perspective, telehealth brings not only multiple providers to small towns but also, a palpable economic impact that fills in and protects their workforce so that clinicians practice longer and other businesses benefit from a stronger customer base. Support from citizens in the community also enhances the credibility of the local hospital and clinic because they can facilitate care with access to different specialists using telemedicine.

The pandemic increased awareness of telehealth to health care providers and health systems. Now, telehealth must exist on a level playing field with parity in the marketplace for reimbursement, compensation, state licensure and credentialing. While those requirements remain at a distance during the public health emergency, the health care community eventually will balance this equation of access to care through telehealth with local, state and federal guidelines.

Understanding and practicing these intricacies of quality telehealth is critical in my work today. I believe in treating everyone with respect, a philosophy that always returns to caring for one another because we owe it to each other to be the best we can be in our profession.

The pandemic escalated across the country in the last year, and many clinicians who treat patients and administrators responsible for health care operations faced the quick transition from in-person to remote care. They needed knowledge and best practices to implement quality telehealth services.

As a Founding Board Member of the American Board of Telehealth (ABT), I understand the value our telehealth certificate education offers participants to help them meet their potential in the practice of telemedicine. The Helmsley Charitable Trust supports Avera eCARE and ABT.

The ABT CORE Concepts in Telehealth Certificate Program and Telebehavioral Health Certificate Program present telehealth best practices and resources to help clinician, administrators and all participants deliver quality and consistent care to their patients.

Lean more about ABT Telehealth Certificate offerings.

Published on June 4, 2021