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Virtual healthcare in rural Indiana

Last Modified: May 25, 2024

Family Medicine, Diseases & Disorders

Woman attends virtual appointment

"I've got to warn you," Jeanie Schug began, "I live rural and sometimes don't have the best phone connection. If the call drops, I ask that you call me back." This candid admission from Jeanie not only highlights the everyday challenges of rural living but also sets the stage for a deeper discussion on the broader issues of access to essential resources like reliable telephone connectivity, high-speed internet and, most crucially, quality healthcare facilities. 

Jeanie's health journey

Jeanie, a retired Parkview Huntington Hospital nurse and long-time resident of Andrews, Indiana, has navigated a healthcare journey marked by resilience. She's faced multiple knee surgeries, one knee replacement and two back surgeries. In 2006, she was also diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Despite these challenges, Jeanie has maintained a remarkably positive outlook. "Considering what I've been through, I feel I've been in fair health. I can still get up and go live my life," she said.  

She initially received diabetes management guidance from her family doctor in Huntington, but when he retired in 2016, she transitioned to Parkview Endocrinology in Fort Wayne and has remained there ever since. Jeanie says she loves the Fort Wayne office and her providers, but the hour-long journey and the ever-rising fuel prices were less than convenient. "I might have to go every three months or every six months right now, depending on what we're working on," she explained. 

The solution

Many rural residents face the harsh reality of accessing healthcare from a distance. Specialists tend to practice in more urbanized areas with larger populations, resulting in fewer providers in nonmetro areas. As the Association of American Medical Colleges underlines, this disparity correlates to higher mortality rates and lower life expectancies for rural residents living with chronic conditions. 

The recent surge in telemedicine has offered many benefits, such as convenient access to healthcare, yet unreliable broadband presents a significant hurdle. "If I had to do a virtual visit using my service here at home, I can't be guaranteed a connection," said Jeanie. 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 22.3% of Americans in rural areas lack high-speed internet, compared to just 1.5% in urban areas, exacerbating the divide in healthcare access. Addressing this, Parkview Huntington's introduction of in-office virtual visits offers a vital solution, leveraging reliable in-clinic broadband. During these in-person appointments, patients connect with their providers virtually using a tablet and a stable internet connection at a Parkview medical office. 

The virtual experience

In the fall of 2023, Jeanie's provider, Kayleigh Land, NP, aware of the long-distance Jeanie traveled for her appointments, suggested she try the new in-office  virtual visits. "When I heard about the option to have my endocrinology appointments at the virtual clinic down here in Huntington, I jumped on it! I thought, "This was perfect. Let's try it"," Jeanie recalled. 

During in-office virtual visits, patients receive the same level of medical care as expected from a traditional visit, but the provider attends virtually. Meanwhile, the Parkview care team is present in the office to assist them. "From the time you walk in, you're greeted, and the staff is friendly and caring. When they take you back, they're very helpful. Other than not seeing my provider in person, it's like visiting a physician's office. They took my blood pressure, got my weight and asked if there were any major concerns."

Once patients are connected to their provider on the tablet, the on-staff nurse may either stay to assist with the exam or leave the room, depending on the needs of the visit. This setup allows patients to both see and hear their provider clearly, ensuring an uninterrupted consultation. "There's a good connection, and it's worked out so far, the several times I've had the meetings with Kayleigh. The girls at the clinic are just fantastic and enjoyable people to work with. I lucked out with being able to have that opportunity," she said. 

While Jeanie appreciates the significant cut in travel time—from a two-hour round trip to just 30 minutes—she emphasizes that the most considerable advantage of the in-office virtual visits is maintaining continuity with her providers.

"I'd be concerned if I had to change providers midstream. When you build a relationship with your doctor, they get to know you, your history and how best to work with you," Jeanie said. "If you're put in a situation where you have to find a new provider, you're starting all over and that's very frustrating. I really appreciate being able to work with that office with Kayleigh."

Jeanie values the accessibility and convenience offered by in-office virtual visits immensely. "The whole experience has been positive. It's been a godsend," Jeanie says. "If I have any questions or need help getting set up, I have someone available right there that I can talk to immediately and get things sorted out." 

Learn more

In-office virtual visits are great for individuals who don't need in-person care, prefer not to travel far for routine care or lack internet access to a strong connection. If interested in this hybrid model of care, please speak to your provider. Endocrinology care is available at multiple Parkview locations. To establish care with one of our providers, call 260-266-8840.

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