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Improving Healthcare Access to Rural Pennsylvanians

According to the Health Resources & Service Administration, Pennsylvania ranks 5th in the nation in the number of Medically Underserved Areas/Populations. This places nearly one million Pennsylvanians, many of whom live in rural counties, at a significant disadvantage in terms of their opportunity to receive adequate healthcare. However, there have recently been substantial efforts made within the medical community that could be directed to alleviate this disparity. Through the unfortunate turn of events of the COVID-19 pandemic which has devastated the lives of all Pennsylvanians, healthcare systems have sought to expand their telemedicine capabilities to better serve their local population. This silver lining has accelerated the means for providers to offer their expertise to patients in these disadvantaged communities. By continuing to train practitioners to deliver effective telemedicine services, an increasing number of healthcare programs will become easily accessible to all patients; even those who may be over an hour’s drive from their local healthcare system. Now that individual health systems have the capability to provide accessible medical care to the full scope of their footprint, I believe the next logical step to providing more cohesive healthcare within Pennsylvania is to encourage collaboration amongst health systems.

The expansion of telemedicine systems has already sparked collaboration efforts within my local healthcare system. Geisinger Janet Weis Children’s Hospital in Danville has recently affiliated with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) to improve specialized care for patients with complex pediatric disorders. Citing the recent improvement in the utilization of technology powered by virtual connections, these two great organizations have partnered to improve children’s healthcare within Central Pennsylvania. The idea of increasing access to high quality healthcare via telemedicine can be expanded further into a hub and spokes model for all forms of patient care. Larger health care institutions could exist as a “hub” for collaboration with smaller hospital system (the “spokes”), to provide immediate, life-changing medical advice and services via telemedicine to the nearly one million Pennsylvanians who are currently living in medically underserved areas. The state and its hospital systems have extensively devoted time and funding to ensuring our friends, family, and neighbors can receive equitable healthcare regardless of gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Our healthcare system will not truly provide equitable healthcare until equal care can be provided regardless of geographic location. By combining the resources and ground-breaking research of larger, established hospitals with the community outreach capabilities of smaller, rural health systems, Pennsylvanians would be able to receive the right care, at the right time, in their local area. My vision for the future of Pennsylvania medicine is to further utilize the technological services currently available to provide a more comprehensive and uniform healthcare experience to all Pennsylvanians via a hub and spokes model of collaborating hospital systems.

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