Telehealth Research Aims to Improve Women’s Health in Rural South Carolina

in South Carolina, especially women in rural
areas of South Carolina, face disparities in health care. And these disparities may
be related to such issues as cost, transportation,
or simply shortages of health care
providers in these areas. And so in 2014, one of
our community partners actually approached
us with the idea about developing a
telehealth intervention. And so they came to the
Women’s Health Research team because we have expertise and
formative audience research. And this community
partner really wanted to know what do
women in the community, especially in rural
South Carolina– how do they feel
about telehealth? And is there an
opportunity to develop a telehealth intervention
in rural South Carolina to improve women’s health? So in order to answer
this research question, we developed a three-pronged
research approach. First, we conducted 52
in-depth interviews with women in the target audience. So we went to rural
South Carolina. We went to five counties. We went to Allendale,
Beaufort, Houlton, Hampton, and Jasper counties. And we talked with 52 women. We spent an hour at
least with each one to talk to them
about their opinions and perspectives of telehealth. Then to complement that, we
also conducted a case study of telehealth in South Carolina. So we went and did
a document analysis. We looked at legal artifacts. We looked at news stories. And then we also
talked with experts. So we talked with 11
experts and stakeholders throughout the state
of South Carolina to really get a full
picture of the opportunity to develop a telehealth
intervention for women in South Carolina. ELLIE SMITH: My main
role in the research was conducting interviews with
the women in the rural counties that we were assigned. All of our participants
pretty much said that telehealth would
provide many benefits to them and their health care
access, namely cost. A lot of participants
describe financial barriers when attempting to
access health care. Transportation issues were
also noted by participants. And having a telehealth center
in their community that’s more readily available
to them would help them gain more
access to health care. I think they have their concerns
of confidentiality and privacy. But if those are
handled appropriately for the telehealth
programs, they would be definitely willing to
use those in their communities. MAJA GRZEJDZIAK: It was really
exciting to work with this team because I was able to hear what
the stakeholders were saying. And my other
research partner was able to interview
the participants. And so we really gained
a comprehensive view of what telehealth and
telemedicine looked like right now in South Carolina. And some of the findings were
that telehealth programs really haven’t been fully utilized to
the potential that they can be. And so this kind of
gave a screenshot, a snapshot in time of where
we are now in South Carolina and where we can be. BETH SUNDSTROM: So on the
Women’s Health Research team, we’re really committed
to translating our research into practice. And while our
research findings are important for health
communicators and public health professionals, they can really
use these findings in the field when they’re designing a
public health intervention. We also want to make sure
that the laws that are passed are beneficial to women
in South Carolina. And specifically the South
Carolina Telemedicine Act, which was signed into law by the
Governor in June of this year, we were able to impact
that legislation. Originally in the bill,
there was an exclusion. Physicians would not be able
to prescribe contraception through telehealth. And of course, our
research, we found that contraception
was one of the things that women really need. And so by rating this
testimony and really connecting with legislators, we
were actually successful in getting them to remove that
exclusion, which I think really paves the way for
telehealth to be really effective and
successful in reaching women in rural South Carolina
and addressing their health needs.

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