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Telehealth Delivers Crucial Rural Access to Care

Telehealth Delivers Crucial Rural Access to Care

The future of health care is starting to look more and more like an episode of “The Jetsons”: mobile, seen on screens and often available at a moment’s notice. As medical providers across Western North Carolina work to expand access, especially in rural communities where it’s notoriously lacking, telehealth has emerged as a promising new solution for patients in areas that lack local resources. Although rudimentary, hospital-based remote medical care has been around since the late 1950s, when a closed-circuit TV link was established between the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute and Norfolk State Hospital, telehealth has seen a dramatic rise in popularity as the technology has evolved and access to specialty health care has diminished.

An estimated 7 million patients in the United States will use telemedicine services this year, a December 2018 article in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine predicted, and demand will continue to rise. The piece also noted that from 2012-13, the telemedicine market grew by 60%.

“As we become more digital in our daily lives, it makes more sense, from a provider’s perspective, to interact with folks in that realm,” says Shane Lunsford, practice manager at the Asheville-based MAHEC Center for Psychiatry and Mental Wellness. “Often we can reach folks better through technology than we can face to face,” says Lunsford, whose facility — an arm of the Mountain Area Health Education Center — is about to roll out a new telepsychiatry program. “This is a way to make that access to health care happen and treat patients’ conditions before they have to go to the emergency room or call 911.”

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Case Studies

I’m pleased because I don’t have to make a 4 ½-hour drive to get my infusion. It’s great that we can now have the therapy that I needed right here.


I’m very fortunate and so grateful for everything the center does for me. The wait is short and I’m in and out in no time. Without this local service, I couldn’t keep my job. I wouldn’t be able to take care of my family or enjoy my life.

CIS Rural Patient

They monitored me, they took care of me. The infection that was causing the pain began to go away. I can tell you now I’m able to stand on both legs. After the infusion therapy, I was able to resume the activity that I truly enjoy, playing the guitar and exploring the wonders of music.


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