How Better Broadband Access Will Help Telemedicine Reach Its Full Potential
Increasing Telemedicine Adoption Rates with Internet Access
While telehealth adoption rates continue to rise across the country, they’re still not growing as fast as many have hoped. Among small practices, telemedicine accounts for just 8.2% of all patient interactions, while it accounts for 26.5% of patient interactions at large practices.
One of the main obstacles to widespread telehealth adoption is the lack of access to broadband services across much of the United States. Rural communities tend to have the most trouble when it comes to accessing the internet, impeding their access to telehealth services like remote patient monitoring, patient consulting, and even appointment reminders.
Improving access to broadband services was the main topic of discussion at the 2018 Connected Health Conference, where Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai spoke about the benefits of broadband internet and telehealth. He touched on what he describes as the Digital Divide, the inequality gap between those with access to the internet and those without. He also mentioned several ways he and the FCC plan to increase the public’s access to high-speed internet.
Continue reading to learn more about the connection between broadband access and telehealth adoption rates, and how the FCC is working to expand internet access in rural communities.
Making the Connection Between Broadband and Telehealth
Telehealth connects patients and healthcare providers using the internet. If patients don’t have high-speed internet in their homes, they won’t be able to enjoy the benefits of telehealth. According to the FCC, 24 million Americans and 31% of rural households do not have access to broadband internet at home. Certain internet service providers simply refuse to cover these rural areas, while some rural Americans can’t afford broadband access, which can easily cost over a $100 a month.
Rural Americans also tend to live further away from the nearest healthcare center compared to urban and suburban Americans, which makes them all the more dependent on telehealth services. With access to broadband, these rural communities could use telehealth to get the care they need without having to make a long trip to see their doctor in person.
When a community doesn’t have access to broadband, local healthcare providers will be less likely to adopt telehealth in the first place. Adoption rates are largely determined by patient demand. If a healthcare provider’s patients can’t access telehealth services because they don’t have access to the internet, the provider won’t view telehealth as a priority. The more patients have access to broadband services, the higher nationwide telehealth adoption rates will be.
How the FCC Plans on Increasing Broadband Access
FCC Chairman Ajit Pia understands the connection between broadband and telehealth. That’s why he’s trying to get Americans connected to the internet in greater numbers. At the 2018 Connected Health Conference, Pia announced several initiatives aimed at increasing the public’s access to broadband around the country.
The Connect America Fund is helping 713,000 homes and small businesses in underserved areas connect to the internet by providing equipment and installation services. The Rural Health Care Program is giving $518 million to qualifying healthcare providers to help them establish a telehealth system, including connectivity tools like routers, computers, and tablets. Lastly, a Connected Care Pilot Program was just awarded $100 million to provide low-income patients and veterans with sensors for remote patient monitoring (RPM). Studies show RPM reduces hospital admission and readmission rates, helping providers keep track of their patients while they’re at home.
These projects represent some of the biggest efforts to increase the country’s access to broadband services. High-speed internet is essential when it comes to using telehealth services. The more patients have access to broadband services, the more healthcare providers will consider adopting telehealth.
Visit InTouch Health to learn more about the benefits of telehealth and why having access to broadband services is so important.