Bob Buckley takes a look at ‘health care deserts’ in the Piedmont

The health care system, in some parts of the Piedmont … is, itself, ailing.

“In rural areas, you have a lot of older, sicker patients,” says Katherine Restrepo, who studies health care for the John Locke Foundation, a think tank based in Raleigh. “It becomes a serious issue when you have hospitals closing and there isn't an emergency room, nearby.”

“Every community wants to save its hospital. The question that people have to start asking is, 'What is your expectation about what a hospital looks like?'” says Julie Henry of the North Carolina Hospital Association.

Increasingly, they look like a computer screen.

Regional health systems like Cone Health, in Greensboro, are trying to bring some refreshment to what are being called, “Health care Deserts,” which is defined as an area where you would have to drive at least an hour to get to an acute care facility.

“In a lot of rural communities, quite frankly, people are bypassing rural hospitals to go to the larger medical centers for some services,” says Henry. “So, that's when a system has to look at, perhaps, what is offered within our system and what can we offer at the local level and what can we offer at a regional level to ensure that we can continue to buy the equipment that's up to date and staff it appropriately.”

Full staffing is, as Dr. Patrick Wright of Cone Health puts it, “It's a challenge, it's a challenge.”

Among ways to alleviate that, Cone is doing virtual visits.

“I noticed from the records that the nurse provided me, you're a diabetic?” says the doctor in one we witnessed, just as if he were in the room with the patient. “Have you noticed any sweating with your fever?”

“Virtual visits are the next best things because it's a way for the patients to not have to travel nearly as long distances to seek the care that they need,” notes Restrepo.

Dr. Wright says his feedback confirms that.

“Once the patients had that interaction with the physician, they definitely feel they're getting their needs met,” he says.

See how it works in this edition of the Buckley Report.