KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — Remote Area Medical, an East Tennessee-based nonprofit, is working towards closing the health disparity.
Their telehealth program is reaching people who are in need of basic medical care. They are using virtual appointments to connect uninsured patients who may not be able to attend a clinic with a medical provider. Through a phone or a computer screen, patients can be connected to a doctor in an instant.
Stephen Blackstock, the manager for RAM disaster and telehealth, said that over more than 600 people have received free medical care in this program.
The providers are all volunteer-based and are from across the U.S., from Oregon to New Hampshire. Despite their location, they are able to help East Tennesseans.
"Knoxville is just like the entire United States of America. You can go to any community and you can find people that live right next to a hospital right next to a health care clinic who don't have access to those facilities," Blackstock said. "Our goal from our founder, Stan Brock, is to create access for people."
His mission in the telehealth program is to care for people and close the disparity that exists in East Tennessee communities.
"It feels really good to help people and telehealth is a good way to provide more access to everyone," Blackstock said. "It's a way of leveraging technology so that people can safely get free medical care in a convenient way."
He said the East Tennessee community is one of many nationwide facing health deserts and a lack of healthcare resources. Telehealth programs can help reach more people in those healthcare deserts, he said.
Their services are provided two weekends each month. Most of the people they serve are among the most vulnerable patients in East Tennessee.
According to RAM's 2021 year review, around 45% of their patients say they haven't visited a dentist in more than five years and 76% say their health has declined or stayed the same.
"These are people that, for a variety of reasons, don't currently have a home of their own," he said. "A lot of them may be unemployed, and they just don't have access to healthcare."
The organization's telehealth program only plays a small part in its total outreach efforts. Last year alone, the organization served over 24,000 patients in person. Many of those patients crossed state lines to receive help.
"There's still people that fall through the cracks for whatever reason," he said. "We're just trying to fill that gap and make sure that people have an opportunity to get some of the acute care that they need."
In the new year, they will launch a telehealth mobile truck. It will allow people without internet access to use the truck for telehealth appointments.
They hope to reach rural communities across the area.
For more information on how you can receive help through telehealth, you can visit their website to sign up.