Lack of accessibility to medical specialists has become increasingly dire over the last decade, especially since the pandemic. The impact on the elderly has been dramatic, yet, the scarcity of medical specialists has been felt most by patients of all ages with chronic disease, especially chronic neurologic diseases. Further, it is more common for patients with neurologic disorders, suffering from diseases such as MS, ALS, and brain tumors to travel the longest distances.
According to a recent study conducted at the University of Michigan (“Patient Travel Distance to Neurologist Visits,” published in Neurology) 23% of MS patients travel 50 miles or more each way per visit. These results mirror a recent BeCareLink survey of its MS patients in which 47% were traveling at least one hour to see a neurologist (https://becarelink.com)
The long distances travelled are much more difficult for patients with impaired mobility and cognitive impairment. The study showed that these long distances were associated with reduced follow-up with their treating doctors. Patients most impacted were those from rural areas where there are already fewer medical providers.
The lack of follow-up most certainly leads to inadequate monitoring and poorer outcomes. But the problem of detection of disease and attaining a diagnosis is an even more pressing issue. Without a diagnosis being made in a timely fashion, because of the barrier of distance and accessibility, which often requires visits to subspecialists, patients will present with more advanced disease. This often can be less responsive to available treatments. Data has shown that the degree of long-term disability suffering from MS is greater when initiation of treatment is delayed. The first symptoms of MS as well as progression of this disease can be subtle. As a result, many people who suspect neurologic dysfunction may delay initial and follow-up visits longer than they might if getting in to see a doctor were faster and more convenient.
This data was collected in 2018, prior to the pandemic. Telehealth has become increasingly popular to bridge the accessibility gap over the past few years. One potential problem is that telehealth visits for neurology do not provide the needed information gained from a reliable neurologic exam.
BeCareLink was created to provide reliable and quantitative information on neurologic status. The evaluation can be performed at home and results shared with physicians across the country. BeCareLink can help address the access to necessary neurologic care and to screen for undiagnosed neurologic disorders in those at risk. BeCareLink offers a general neurologic tool as well as a specialized tool for MS patients. Check us out at BeCareLink.com.