Telemedicine for Rural Residents

Here at Diabetes Flashpoints, we’ve discussed the potential benefits and downsides of telemedicine as found by researchers a couple of times in the past. In those studies, there was conflicting evidence on whether this practice — using an Internet connection to attend appointments virtually through live video — raises or lowers medical costs, even as the studies have shown benefits among participants. But many past studies haven’t compared telemedicine with any alternative method of getting medical care, making it hard to weigh the costs and benefits of the programs being tested.

A recent study, though, shows that telemedicine can be beneficial even when compared with in-person visits at an academic medical center. Published earlier this year in the North Carolina Medical Journal, the study gave participants with uncontrolled Type 2 diabetes who lived in rural areas the opportunity to see a multidisciplinary medical team for their diabetes. Unlike some past studies, it didn’t eliminate actual visits to the doctor’s office — instead, it let participants see more health-care professionals than would normally be possible in their rural primary care provider’s office.

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As noted in an article on the study at Pharmacy Times, participants often saw different members of their team — such as an endocrinologist, dietitian, or pharmacist — in back-to-back appointments. Over 30 months, 365 participants had 1,215 virtual visits with health professionals. A year into the study, they had experienced an overall significant drop in their body weight and LDL (low-density lipoprotein, or “bad”) cholesterol. They also experienced, after 6 months, a drop in HbA1c (a measure of long-term blood glucose control) of 0.9%. This result was almost the same as the 0.8% reduction found in a group of 262 similar patients who visited an academic medical center in person.

In addition to these diabetes-related benefits, the study found that after 12 months, 67% of participants who had reported depressive symptoms (52% of the group) saw a decrease in symptoms. The study also saw a reduction in anxiety over the same period, with 62% of those who had reported symptoms (48% of the group) showing improvement. Overall, 92% of participants were “very satisfied” with their care, and 83% noted that telemedicine made it easier for them to get medical care.

What’s your take on this study — do you think telemedicine could help you see a larger diabetes team than might be possible with your regular primary-care provider? Do you think you’d be able to interact with your provider as well over video as in person? Is it a good idea to do telemedicine visits from an actual doctor’s office, as this study did, or would it be even better to do them in the comfort of your own home? Leave a comment below!

Want to learn more about telemedicine and diabetes? Read “Advances in Medical Technology: Improving Diabetes Care.”