The Indiana Rural Health Association is holding their 21st annual conference in French Lick. Topics on the agenda include the opioid epidemic, obesity, closing the gap of infant mortalities in rural communities, and how telemedicine can help prevent lengthy and costly doctor visits.
Nearly half of Indiana counties are considered rural communities by the USDA. IRHA Executive Don Kelso says the primary goal of the Indiana Rural Health Association is to improve the health and well-being of rural Hoosiers through education, collaboration, and facilitation.
“I think sometimes those people (in rural communities) are forgotten. They’re just viewed as always there and they’ve always been there. And sometimes those folks are hesitant, or reluctant, to access healthcare and wellness early enough. We deal in statistics and there are higher incidents of suicide in the ag industry, even opioid abuse, unfortunately.”
Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box was the keynote speaker kicking off the annual conference. She said rural communities are facing the same issues as urban areas, but often to a greater degree.
“So, we’re talking about the opioid epidemic. We’re talking about increased rates of smoking. We’re talking about obesity issues and the associated diabetes and hypertension, and also infant mortality. Unfortunately, rural America doesn’t have access, sometimes, in our critical access areas to as many primary care providers or specialists to deal with these areas. So, we have to be creative in the way that we reach rural America, for instance with telemedicine.”
Box says telemedicine can help save a trip to a doctor that is far away. She says after the first physical exam, the majority of future visits are spent talking through issues and that can be done through telemedicine.
“That allows us to follow chronic disease and to get better care for patients. So, we can actually touch base with an individual that’s had congestive heart failure and say, ‘How are you feeling today? How is your breathing today? Are you feeling short of breath? Are you having any chest pain? How is your swelling in your ankles today? Did you weigh yourself? How does it compare to yesterday?’ Those kinds of signs that we can pick up on to indicate whether that individual might need to make that extra trip to go see the health care provider in person.”
The conference concludes Wednesday in French Lick.