|Dr. Kelly Rhone with a map of hospitals using Avera eCare. (Photo by Michael S. Williamson, The Washington Post)|
Telemedicine is one answer to a growing problem. The number of rural ER patients has increased by 60 percent in the past decade, but rural doctors and hospitals have declined by up to 15%, and many hospitals and standalone ERs are on the brink of bankruptcy, Saslow reports. Access to telemedicine actually helps retain rural doctors, too, since it gives them more support and time off to recharge.
Hooking up to telemedicine can be expensive, though. The standard subscription rate for Avera is about $70,000 a year, and the hospital must be outfitted with fiber-optic cables, cameras, and microphones. Beyond that, the hospital must have (and pay for) broadband access, Saslow reports.