The Role of Telemedicine in Rural Specialty Care: Priorities and Recommendations from Rural Primary Care Physicians


  • Faith Hampton, B.A. KU School of Medicine
  • Jeremy Larson, B.S. KU School of Medicine
  • Alyssa Hobson, B.S. KU School of Medicine
  • Dorothy Hughes, Ph.D. KU School of Medicine



rural healthcare, telemedicine, specialty care


Introduction. The study goal was to understand telemedicine’s role in improving access to rural specialty care. Other outcomes included assessing specialty availability and frequency of referrals at rural sites.      

Methods. This mixed methods study included surveys and semi-structured interviews of rural primary care physicians (PCPs). Survey data were analyzed with summary statistics and cross-tabulations. Interview transcripts were inductively thematically analyzed.  

Results. Of the 19 PCPs who completed the survey, 37% agreed/strongly agreed current telemedicine practices connected patients to better specialty care; 90% agreed/strongly agreed it had such potential. Interviews revealed telemedicine could improve care when local specialists were unavailable and provided the most benefit in acute care settings or specialist follow-ups. Most survey respondents reported outreach specialists were highly effective in addressing rural specialty care needs. Respondents reported cardiology, general surgery, orthopedic surgery, ENT/otolaryngology, and dermatology as the most frequently referred-to specialties. In-person neurology, gastroenterology, and dermatology were unavailable in many communities. Respondents identified psychiatry as a high priority for telemedicine and discussed clinic-to-clinic visits to optimize telemedicine use.  

Conclusions. The perceived discrepancy between the current and potential roles of telemedicine in rural specialty care suggests that telemedicine may not fully align with the needs of rural patients and could be optimized for rural practice settings. While local, in-person access to specialists remains a priority, telemedicine can reduce patient burdens and improve care when in-person specialists are unavailable. 


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Brief Reports

How to Cite

Faith Hampton, Jeremy Larson, Alyssa Hobson, & Dorothy Hughes. (2024). The Role of Telemedicine in Rural Specialty Care: Priorities and Recommendations from Rural Primary Care Physicians. Kansas Journal of Medicine, 17(1), 6-10.