While the recent overturn of Roe v. Wade thrust women’s health into the spotlight, longstanding structural issues are contributing to a decline in maternal health outcomes for moms everywhere. However, the effects are conspicuously more pronounced in rural communities—and more so among their residents of color.

As the maternal mortality rate continues to climb, especially among moms of color, it’s clear that we’re at an inflection point. Rural moms are 60% more likely to die from childbirth, and rural Black and Brown women are three times more likely to die from maternal health complications than rural white women. But with rising costs, hospital closures, and a national shortage of OB-GYNs, all signs point to a continued decline in the health of rural communities. Fortunately, the advent of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic shows us that high quality care can be delivered with the push of a button—and that might just be our ticket to helping rural communities.

What are the challenges with rural healthcare?

Rural communities, which are by nature smaller and more distributed than urban areas, tend to have lower income per capita and consequently lower tax bases—meaning funding for services for things like maternity care and mental health is scarce, if not non-existent. Since 2005 over 181 hospitals in rural communities have closed, all the while a national doctor shortage persists.

According to the National Rural Health Association, “the patient-to-primary care physician ratio in rural areas is only 40 physicians per 100,000 people, compared to 53 physicians per 100,000 in urban areas.” Consequently, over 50% of U.S. counties are considered maternal care deserts, lacking a single OB-GYN. In these communities, people have to travel further for lower-quality care: rural families travel twice as far for emergency medical care, and more than 50% of rural women have to travel 30 minutes or more for OB-GYN services. The result is fewer people seeking, accessing, and receiving care—and worse outcomes.

All of these challenges are amplified for people of color through both structural issues and the social determinants of health. Whereas some people may be able to afford the gas money and time off work to travel 30+ minutes to see an OB-GYN, historically marginalized groups like Black and Indigenous women are less likely to be able to. Likewise, many rural people of color are low income and reliant on medicaid for insurance coverage, which can lead to worse outcomes because of the difficult choices they’re forced to make in light of limited coverage and a smaller network (e.g. do I use my gas to go to work or see a doctor?). Consequently, low income women, especially in rural areas, are less likely to seek help when sick and less likely to take medication—which is especially challenging for new and expecting parents.

“Maternity care fails all people in the U.S.,” says Dawn Godbolt, Director of Health Equity at Maven. “But when you add in dimensions like geographic location, income, and race, then you see the additive effect that leads to worse outcomes.” With so many challenges and uphill battles to face, it’s no wonder that so many rural families are simply not receiving or seeking necessary care.

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How can digital health help rural communities?

The challenges facing rural women and families—high costs, limited access, and reductions in care—don’t seem to be going away any time soon. However, digital health, having taken off at full steam during the early days of the pandemic, can offer some immediate solutions. Virtual visits negate the need for travel, and can cost both insurers and individuals significantly less money. And by allowing rural moms to meet with providers more frequently, it’s less likely they’ll seek emergency care when it’s not necessary, and more likely they’ll get the education and guidance they need to lead to positive birth outcomes. 

“Telehealth has the potential to make a huge impact for rural communities,” says Godbolt. “It can connect providers with people in real-time, answering their questions and guiding them through their family-building journey without them having to worry about how they’ll get there or how much they’ll have to pay out of pocket.” However, telehealth’s success depends just as much on the quality of care as it does on infrastructure and resources, like access to wireless internet, a computer, or a smartphone—all things that are significantly harder to find the more remote a community is. So how can telehealth truly make a difference? By working in tandem with in-person care, using remote patient monitoring, care navigation and education, which  ultimately leads to emergency care diversion.

Maven’s approach to telehealth

Maven’s innovative care model provides high-quality, culturally humble, care that’s available anytime, anywhere. Members have 24/7 access to a worldwide network of providers covering over 30 different family health specialties, and over 250 different subspecialties spanning everything from family planning to parenting and pediatrics.

For rural families, that means access to fertility awareness educators, reproductive endocrinologists, lactation consultants, sleep specialists, mental health providers, career coaches, and other providers  they might otherwise have never been able to see. Through care matching, members can meet with providers who understand their unique cultural and social needs, including language, race, and sexual orientation.

What makes Maven unique is its emphasis on high-quality care for every member. Dedicated Care Advocates help guide members through their journey, and can provide referrals to high-quality virtual and in-person care that’s covered by their insurance. Members can use the platform to seek advice, get their questions answered, and receive care rapidly, in between in-person appointments.

Employers with distributed workforces now have to contend with the fact that having good insurance isn’t enough: when access to care is restricted, whether by geography, a pandemic, or institutional inequities, their employees suffer. Telehealth solutions, like Maven, can bridge those gaps in care for their most vulnerable populations, regardless of where they live. For Health Plans looking to provide a telemedicine solution that will delight their members and drive critical maternal and family health outcomes, Maven provides an unparalleled user experience with proven clinical success.

To find out how Maven can help your employees, members, or patients receive the care they need, request a demo today.

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