Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Telemedicine can't help rural America very much until broadband access improves, researchers conclude

University of Pittsburgh maps; click on the image to enlarge it. CEAC is a county with extreme access considerations.
Telemedicine, whether the patient is is a health-care facility or at home, has been lauded as a way to increase rural health-care access, but a newly published study suggests that it can't help very much until rural broadband access improves.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health mapped out areas where residents might have to drive an hour or more to access a primary care physician or specialist. "Then, to determine access to broadband, the researchers turned to data from the Federal Communications Commission to find out whether people who lived in counties with distant drives to doctors had a way to download data at a speed of at least 25 megabits per second, which is sufficient to support video-based telehealth visits," Linda Carroll reports for Reuters.

The researchers found that, in counties with inadequate access to primary care physicians and psychiatrists, the broadband subscription rate was 38.6%. And even if the broadband problem were solved, there are other barriers to telemedicine, according to lead author Coleman Drake: "Medicare, with few exceptions, doesn’t reimburse for telemedicine visits from home."

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