Friday, April 03, 2015

Expanding broadband to rural areas would increase telemedicine options, improve rural health

Providing broadband access to rural areas is not just a push for more residents to be able get online to surf the Internet. Broadband is key to improving rural health, through "more cost-effective and higher-quality care, such as video consultation, remote patient monitoring and electronic health record operability," reports Health Affairs. "And in many places—particularly rural areas that have the most to gain from telemedicine and connectivity—broadband remains too expensive, unreliable or simply not available at the speeds required to enable innovations in care."

Rural healthcare providers can get around a lack of broadband availability in a variety of ways, reports Health Affairs. "Health care providers can purchase broadband access through mass market options, which are similar to the internet access purchased by individual consumers and can meet the bandwidth needs of most small providers (four or fewer clinicians)."

Federal subsidies also are available, reports Health Affairs. Within the Rural Health Care Program "subsidies for three types of services are available to public and non-profit health care providers: telecommunication services for rural providers (Telecommunications Fund); Internet access for rural providers (Internet Access Fund); and one-time capital costs for network deployment with five years of support for costs of advanced telecommunications and information services for rural and urban providers (Pilot Program)."

They real key is to initiate recommendations made in the 2010 National Broadband Plan, reports Health Affairs. Plans are: Make it easier for rural health care providers to use broadband support; expand eligibility requirements to include more health care providers; and adjust the RHCP to address the rapidly changing broadband environment. (Read more)

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