Over the last few years, members of the Washington D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center visited Marshfield Clinic in Minocqua, seeking a window into rural healthcare in America.
Rural areas like northern Wisconsin face hospital closures, physician shortages, and a struggle to access telehealth services, the Center found in a comprehensive report.
Some of the issues facing rural health care have only intensified since the pandemic started, especially telehealth.
“It’s enormous. Before the pandemic, telehealth was really considered to be a rural issue. Telehealth certainly is in rural areas already, but not to the extent that we think it could be,” said Marilyn Serafini, the health director of the Bipartisan Policy Center.
Before the pandemic, there were about 12,000 telehealth visits nationwide each week. At the pandemic’s peak, that grew to one million per week, according to Serafini.
But areas without broadband access struggle to use telehealth services. Tribal areas are especially impacted.
“As difficult as the problems are in rural America, they’re even worse in tribal areas. A full third of tribal areas do not have access to broadband, and there is really a severe shortage of clinicians,” Serafini said.
Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson was a co-chair of the task force that produced the report on the crisis in rural health care.