Expanding access to telemedicine will make it easier for rural hospitals to care for their patients

Millionaire country music stars like to pretend they spend their weekdays driving a tractor and their weekends driving pretty girls down dirt roads in their pickup truck. While they can only dream, many Mississippians live the true country life in all its glory.  

It is a good life, but not as simple as the performers portray it to be. Living far away from population centers can mean reduced access to many essential services, like healthcare. Maintaining access to rural emergency medicine could be the difference between life and death for many Mississippians.

In Mississippi, there are 64.4 primary care physicians for every 100,000 residents, far below the national median of 90.8. Half of Mississippi’s rural hospitals are in financial risk. Some have closed down completely or shuttered critical services such as emergency rooms.

Rural emergency rooms are difficult to maintain. They must stay open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The hospital has to hire several emergency room physicians to take turns covering those shifts. If those staff physicians cannot cover a shift, the hospital has to bring in a temporary physician — often from out of state. Not only is it expensive to staff an emergency room, it can be hard to recruit multiple emergency medicine physicians to live and work in a small town. Moreover, if a rural hospital does succeed in staffing an emergency department, it will see relatively few patients. Rather than bringing additional income to the hospital, it will likely cost the hospital money to operate.

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