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Posts from December, 2013

Using Telehealth to Support Rural Caregivers

Dec 04

The physical, emotional and financial toll to caregivers is extensive. A conservative estimate reports that 20% of family caregivers suffer from depression, twice the rate of the general population. In response, a variety of caregiver support programs have been developed. However, rural caregivers continue to bear much of the burden alone.

Rural caregivers confront unique challenges, above and beyond the normal stresses of caregiving. They spend significant time and funds just traveling to care for their loved one. 60% of rural caregivers drive up to an hour to check on their loved one. Routine medical appointments and referrals to specialists at major hospitals add to the challenge. Outside of major cities, public transportation is often nonexistent or unreliable. According to one study, rural patients travel an average of 22 miles for care.

Geographical and financial obstacles combine with social barriers to further complicate outreach efforts to rural caregivers. Studies show that traditional attitudes can impede outside efforts to provide rural caregivers with needed support. These perceptions may include strong tendencies toward self-reliance, turning to local institutions, neighbors and church community during times of crisis, skepticism and distrust of the intentions and social sensitivity of providers who live outside the immediate area.

However telehealth is proving a promising new method of overcoming isolation, providing caregiver support and improving patient quality of life. In a first of its kind, randomized 12-week clinical trial, rural caregivers who received telehealth-based caregiver training showed lower rates of depression, better  self-care and improvement in their ability to identify and solve specific problems related to caregiving (e.g. responding to disturbing patient behaviors, controlling upsetting thoughts, etc).

The benefits of telehealth go far beyond caregiver support. Telehealth interventions are proving to be a transformative technology for patients, healthcare workers, insures, employers and hospitals, especially in rural areas. In a future edition of this blog, we will discuss the effectiveness of telehealth in reducing medication errors, improving patient outcomes and overcoming many of the unique challenges that rural hospitals face.