SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Over the past decade, advancements in technology have helped expand telehealth and provide additional services in some areas that may not have been available before.

That is especially true for patients in rural areas who can use telehealth to receive care across many specialties close to home.

Across the upper Midwest, you can drive miles before coming across a rural hospital or clinic. For the people that live there, having access to specialty care can be a challenge. However, technology has made receiving that care anywhere much easier.

“The time savings, the convenience and then the outcomes are now starting to prove that they’re as good, if not better, for multiple services,” president of Sanford Virtual Care Brad Schipper said.

Schipper says they’ve served over 6 million patients virtually.

“We’ve saved millions and millions of miles of travel. We have over 50 specialists that are connecting right now with patients virtually. Over 20% of our behavioral health visits are already done virtually, and that number is only increasing,” he said.

Back in August, Sanford broke ground on a new Virtual Care Center, serving as a hub for virtual care across Sanford’s footprint. It is set to open in the middle of next year.

“We’ll be able to bring all those components together in one central hub to be able to deliver care, but that doesn’t mean that’s the only place where virtual care will be delivered. It will be delivered throughout our entire system, but this definitely is the infrastructure and kind of the backbone to make that much more robust,” Schipper said.

Avera Health also serves patients using telehealth.

“How do we bring our more than 60 specialties into these small towns, whether that’s within our clinics, at the bedside in our hospitals or even into our patient’s homes, so they can really receive care right where they are,” Avera Health chief medical officer Kevin Post said.

With the push of a button, a doctor in a rural hospital can be connected with a specialist elsewhere.

“The ability to turn on a TV screen, and if you’re having a cardiac issue, to have a cardiothoracic surgeon like just there to walk you through the steps of how to take care of a patient. It’s incredible. Even though we’re geographically remote from everybody, there’s just so much support being an integrated system that we wouldn’t otherwise have,” Gregory Avera Hospital director Tony Timanus said.

Sanford and Avera both say telehealth has helped with the workforce shortages in health care since they don’t need doctors for specialty care at every location.

Coming up in tonight’s Eye on KELOLAND at 10, find out more about the importance of rural health care and how it’s changed.