Population Health Insights

Policymakers: Broadband Funding Key to Bringing Telehealth Access to Rural Areas

policymakers-broadband-funding-key-to-bringing-telehealth-access-to-rural-areas

Since taking office, policymakers within the Trump administration have championed the expansion of telehealth access as a means to cut costs and extend care into the nation’s most rural and remote areas.

In a 2017 ceremony announcing the expansion of telehealth funding within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the president himself praised telehealth as a means to “significantly expand access to care for our veterans, especially for those who need help in the area of mental health … It will make a tremendous difference for the veterans in rural locations in particular.

Since then, the VA has pursued even more telehealth access for veterans and their families, while another agency, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), has joined in with a series of its own proposals designed to expand telehealth access into rural areas.

And a common theme has emerged around these proposals: The need to fund high-quality broadband access to facilitate telehealth expansion.

Broadband-enabled telehealth services … can significantly improve Americans’ health and reduce costs for patients and health care providers alike,” as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai commented in an official statement from the FCC. “But many low-income consumers, especially those in rural areas, lack access to affordable broadband and may not be able to realize these benefits.”

Private Sector Offers Model for Improving Telehealth Access via Broadband Expansion

Of course, this is a need that the private sector identified decades ago. Take, for instance, the recent Microsoft-supported push to extend broadband Internet access into underserved regions of Ohio. The goal? To “help address a need for reliable broadband access in rural Ohio and provide access to digital advances in agriculture, telemedicine, and education” (via the AP).

Microsoft is also helping fund an effort by a startup to expand school-based telehealth services to underserved communities in California, Texas and Maine, reports Xtelligent Media’s Eric Wicklund. Or, more specifically, the Microsoft Airband Initiative — a division of the company’s larger strategic efforts to fund major improvements in U.S. broadband connectivity by 2022 — is offering that assistance.

“Broadband access is … an important part of managing healthcare delivery and wellness programs,” as Wicklund quotes a Microsoft report. “Indeed, the availability of telemedicine has been an important development in rural areas which often have fewer doctors per capita than urban areas.”

A few public sector leaders are ahead of the curve. In Chattanooga, a municipal broadband network is empowering efforts to extend telehealth access into rural areas within the surrounding region. “Chattanooga is bullish on telemedicine, and the public gigabit effort has already improved medical practices in the city,” writes Craig Settles in Government Technology magazine.

Supporting ‘the Deployment of Broadband’ to Health Facilities

The FCC is looking to follow a similar path. In its push to promote broadband development for the expansion of telehealth access in rural areas, the agency recently announced the Connected Care Pilot Program, which could provide as much as $100 million in funding for telehealth access to “benefit low-income patients, including those eligible for Medicaid or veterans receiving cost-free medical care.”

“Advances in mobile technology and applications mean that Americans can now get high-quality healthcare delivered directly to them, regardless of where they are located,” Commissioner Brendan Carr stated in an August 2018 news release. “We have been working to support and promote the deployment of broadband to these health facilities.”

Too often, when rural residents leave a hospital or clinic, “their access to high-tech healthcare can drop off entirely,” Carr explained in a recent joint op-ed with Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker for the Clarion-Ledger. “And the results are alarming: Too many patients now go through the costly process of being readmitted within 30 days.”

Citing the Mississippi Diabetes Telehealth Network as a model for successful remote care delivery — a network co-created by Care Innovations® and using our Health Harmony remote patient management (RPM) platform — Carr and Wicker note that the program accomplished in just its first year:

  • A 1.7 percent reduction in A1C
  • No readmissions of any participating patient to a hospital or emergency room during the first three months
  • “$678,000 in annual savings”

 

Outcomes from the Mississippi Diabetes Telehealth Network

“To improve outcomes, drive down costs, and increase access to healthcare, policymakers at every level of government should support this trend towards connected care everywhere,” they conclude. “We look forward to launching the Connected Care Pilot Program and seeing positive results for patients across the country.”

Find out more about our RPM technology and how it helped Mississippi offer high-quality telehealth access to patients living in rural areas: Contact Care Innovations to schedule your complimentary consultation with one of our experts.

Contact Care Innovations