By Alex White, columnist ~ “Small Towns, Big Potential”
As I sit down to write this column, Page County records its fourteenth case of COVID-19. I say records, because, as Dr. Colin Greene of the Lord Fairfax Health District reminds us, there are likely many more unrecorded cases in our midst.
This is a grave threat in a place like Page County; not only is our population aging, but — as a low-income rural area — we have had to deal with the low supply (and high costs) of the medical care that we all need.
Anyone in this county will tell you that it is getting harder and harder to receive consistent care from a family doctor or specialist. They will also tell you that copays are so high that those lucky enough to see a fully-certified doctor often defer checkups (and treatment) for years.
Access has already proven itself to be a challenge; now that COVID-19 has made it unsafe to even visit the doctor, it is a challenge that we desperately need to take care of.
Enter telehealth, an idea that has found support everywhere from Wal-Mart to the VFW and American Legion. Telehealth is the idea that certain health services can be delivered through technology (computerized stations, cellphones, and online platforms). It is time that we take the initiative in inviting these kinds of programs to our county. It may even be time to create our own with health organizations (e.g. UVA, an active facilitator of telehealth in Virginia).
Different groups like Wal-Mart and veterans associations have become involved with telehealth as part of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ ATLAS project (Accessing Telehealth through Local Area Stations). The project seeks to meet the health needs of the five million rural veterans that live far from VA hospitals (or good internet connections). ATLAS does so by placing telehealth stations in Wal Marts, VFW’s, and local American Legion posts.
Taking advantage of ideas like the above is an opportunity that is literally “at our fingertips”. There are many toolkits describing how to do this, and there is (more importantly) a wealth of grants/organizations dedicated to the cause. As for patients, Medicaid and Medicare cover all telehealth services in rural areas.
Given that, I re-emphasize my point: it is time that we do our due diligence in reaching out, surveying our options, and figuring out how to bring more telehealth to our county. As working remotely becomes more common, so might telehealth.
But that is only if we leave no stone unturned in trying to take advantage.
If we do not do that, then we will only continue to be behind the curve.