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Telemedicine could increase health care accessibility in rural areas

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) — Experts from local hospitals met with community members to discuss rural health care and how telemedicine could bridge the urban and rural gap.

People can use smartphones to check in with doctors remotely if they so choose.

“Increasingly we’ve had success with telehealth where if there’s sufficient broadband in an area we can actually deliver a piece of advice via smartphone,” Health Tradition Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Tim Bartholow said.

“We can monitor vital signs, their diabetes, and congestive heart failure,” Mayo Clinic Health System Dr. Paul Mueller said. “So there’s this continuous flow of data while the patient is in their home.”

WISPOLITICS hosted the luncheon at The Waterfront Restaurant and Tavern for nearby rural county residents to talk about health care access with experts. “If these small hospitals close people in our are will have to drive a long distance to see their doctor,” Vernon County Board Supervisor Jim Servais said.

“We believe that communities need to be able to have with their urban center close to them. They also need to have proper food education and a safe environment for kids,” Bartholow said.

Local legislation was invited to speak about what the government is doing to combat the rural and urban health care gap. “I think there are many things we can do. One is accepting Medicaid expansion here in the state. The second is the use of telemedicine for parts of the state that just don’t have the specialists.”

“Healthcare hasn’t always supported mental health as strongly as we’ve wanted and so being able to deliver telehealth with a behavioral health practitioner has allowed someone to actually have access where they might not have before,” Bartholow said.

This isn’t to say that rural areas still don’t need physical hospitals, but having additional health care access could prevent traveling long distances unnecessarily.

According to the Rural Health Information Hub, there are around 1.5 million people living in rural parts of Wisconsin.

While research shows a growing number of state residents have some health insurance, low-income households are often under-insured–meaning they don’t have enough coverage. The La Crosse County Health Department is a resource for those who are struggling.

“There are many programs out there to help with transportation, with insurance and getting you signed up for medical assistance if necessary, with helping you troubleshoot your problem,” La Crosse County Health Department Director Jennifer Rombalski said. “Don’t be afraid to call 211 they are a really good resource.”

There are nearly one hundred rural health care clinics around the state.

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Marcus Aarsvold

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