Introduction: Despite the promises of universal health care in most developed countries, health inequities remain prevalent within and between rural and remote communities. Remote health technologies are often promoted as solutions to increase health system efficiency, to enhance quality of care, and to decrease gaps in access to care for rural and remote communities. However, there is mixed evidence for these interventions, particularly related to how they are received and perceived by health providers and by patients. Importantly, it is noted that health technologies do not always adequately meet the needs of patients or providers. To examine this, a broad-based scoping review was conducted to provide an overview of patient and provider perspectives of eHealth initiatives in rural communities. The unique objective of this review was to prioritize the voices of patients and providers in discussing the disparities between health interventions and needs of people in rural communities. eHealth initiatives were reviewed for rural communities of Australia and Canada; two countries that share similar geographies and comparable health systems at the local level.
Methods: Searches were performed in PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Science with results limited from 2000 to 2018. Keywords included combinations of eHealth, telehealth, telemedicine, electronic health, and rural / remote. Individual patient and provider perspectives on healthcare were identified, followed by qualitative thematic coding based on the type of intervention, the feedback provided, the affected population, geographic location, and category of individual providing their perspective. Quotes from patients and providers are used to illustrate the identified benefits and disadvantages of eHealth technologies.
Results: Based on reviewed literature, 90.1% of articles reported that eHealth interventions were largely positive. Articles noted decreased travel time (18%), time/cost saving (15.1%), and increased access to services (13.9%) as primary benefits to eHealth. The most prevalent disadvantages of eHealth were technological issues (24.5%), lack of face-to-face contact (18.6%), limited training (10.8%) and resource disparities (10.8%). These results show where existing eHealth interventions could improve and can inform policy makers and providers in designing new interventions. Importantly, it is highlighted that there are benefits to eHealth that extend beyond geographic access. Patient report ancillary benefits to eHealth that include reduced anxiety, disruption on family life, and improved recovery time. Providers report closer connections to colleagues, improved support for complex care, and greater eLearning opportunity. Barriers to eHealth are recognized by patient and providers alike to be largely systemic, where lack of rural high-speed internet and unreliability of installed technologies were significant.
Conclusions: Regional and national governments are seen as the key players in addressing these technical barriers. This scoping review diverges from many reviews of eHealth with the use of first-person perspectives. It is hoped that this focus will highlight the importance of patient voices in evaluating important health care interventions such as eHealth and associated technologies.