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Digital Health in the Rural West

Photo of power lines in Rural setting

Delivering health care services through a range of telecommunication technologies allows providers to offer both synchronous (real-time) and asynchronous (store and forward) forms of care to the region’s diffuse and disparate populations.

As digital health practices expand, it is critical that we understand how to match a particular technology (from video conferencing to text messaging) to a particular health need. 

In rural areas often characterized by a lack of access to broadband internet, virtual visits by telephone and/or text messaging may hold greater promise than more advanced technologies for certain illnesses. The Center’s preliminary work on this topic seeks to catalog what services are currently reimbursed by Medicare and other major healthcare providers. Our researchers are also exploring how telehealth technologies enable intermediaries (e.g. community health workers or family members) to assist in providing care, and how expanding the number of potential healthcare givers affects patient outcomes. 

In 2020, the Bill Lane Center and Stanford Medicine released a white paper on telehealth in the rural American West to address the region's struggles with poor access to care.

The white paper builds upon the Lane Center’s earlier work from our Rural West Initiative, and a 2019 workshop on advancing digital health in the rural West, hosted in partnership with Stanford’s School of Engineering and School of Medicine.

The workshop focused on the following areas, and the white paper offers several suggestions to improve rural health problems:

  • The current state of digital health in the Rural West
  • How services provided through telecommunications are compensated
  • The fit of particular illnesses to digital health processes
  • Using digital health to educate family caregivers and community health workers
  • Obstacles to greater use of digital health
  • New low cost technology that could fill important digital heath needs


We believe this innovative, interdisciplinary collaboration between medicine, environmental science, and the social sciences is necessary for tackling the challenges facing the Rural West. It is our dream to take this model and replicate it across the West. We are excited by possibility of continuing this work in the states of Utah and New Mexico, where we believe there are interested and willing university and medical school partners. By starting with digital health and air quality issues, we want to create a scalable model for collaboration that approaches these issues from multiple perspectives.

Related Media

Video: James Gibbons on Virtual Health Pilot Project (Jan. 2018)


Video: A Healthier Rural West 2019 Summit


Affiliated Researchers

Center Researchers
Bruce E. Cain
Iris Hui
Hannah Kelley