As rural outreach specialist for the Center for Family Involvement I am always on the lookout for trends in healthcare that will affect remote areas where underserved and hard to reach populations live.

One that I have experienced firsthand is telehealth.

Those of us living in Southwest Virginia do not always have access to the kind of healthcare available in more populated areas. Telehealth addresses the lack of professionals out in the country. When my own daughter Zoe, who has Down syndrome, needed a psych evaluation for her social anxiety, we didn’t have to travel far or sit forever in a waiting room. Despite living in an area with very few specialists, we headed around the corner for her appointment.

Zoe’s case manager arranged for us to meet a psychiatrist at our Community Services Board office. When we arrived, I discovered our appointment would take place over Skype.

At first I was hesitant to discuss such a delicate manner through computer screens rather than in person. But Zoe seemed fine with it and the appointment proceeded without incident. Questions were asked and answered in real time. To be honest, I’m still not sure how I feel about it. But we were able to come to a conclusion about how to help my daughter and make a plan from there.

Virginia is expanding its telehealth offerings and recently enacted a bill to increase insurance coverage of telemedicine-based services. Additionally, the Virginia Board of Medicine published Telemedicine Guidelines in 2015 to instruct practitioners on this rapidly-growing industry. Virginia is one of 29 states that requires health insurance to pay for coverage of telemedicine just as they would if the appointment would have been in person.

As Telehealth continues to change and expand I will be interested to see how it impacts us in remote areas as well as the population in general. As technology advances and a visit to the doctor is as easy as turning on your computer, care will change for everyone. However, the implications on how it can help our families who have children with special needs is far reaching.

How many of us have sat in an office with our child for extended periods of time while they have a meltdown, or are frightened, tired, bored, hungry, over-stimulated? To eliminate these variables so that physicians can see in a snapshot what is actually wrong without all the periphery would be extremely helpful. The cost saving measures of not having to drive for hours, sometimes even staying overnight would be a huge relief for many.

Time will tell if Telehealth will give us the same quality of care as face to face appointments. My experience with telehealth was a good one. We had a minimal wait to see the doctor and had only to drive around the corner. Zoe was happy which means I was happy. We had lunch; stopped by the pharmacy down the street and headed home. All told we were gone about an hour and fifteen minutes. I look forward to seeing how this type of medicine will continue to impact rural regions and help the lives of those living with disabilities.



**About the author: Lisa Richard is the Rural Outreach Specialist for the Center for Family Involvement. She is the mother of 7 children and lives in Southwest Virginia.









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