Limited Broadband Access Slowing Telehealth Deployment

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Telehealth is a service that aims to improve healthcare access by providing remote care to customers, but the service’s rollout is being held back within rural areas due to limited broadband coverage, Physician’s Weekly reported. A recent study led by Coleman Drake, an assistant professor in the department of health policy and management at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, revealed that 25 percent of Americans live in rural areas, while only 10 percent of doctors practice there.

In the study, Drake and his colleagues discovered that the more rural an area was the lower the rates of broadband access were. 

The rates of broadband access were 96 percent in urban counties, 82.7 percent in rural counties and 59.9 percent in counties with limited access considerations. In the most rural counties with the most limited access to medical care, the subscription rate was only 38.6 percent.

Drake explained that there would need to be policy adjustments in order to provide these communities with the care they need, even if broadband access is improved. Drake said, “Medicare, with few exceptions, doesn’t reimburse for telemedicine visits from home,” according to Physician’s Weekly. Drake also said resolving this issue will require “policy makers at the local, state and federal level who are considering the cost effectiveness of infrastructure expansions to consider that you’re not just letting people get on social media in their spare time, you could also be allowing people to access telemedicine who might otherwise not be able to.”

Dr. Peter Fleischut, chief transformation officer at New York-Presbyterian in New York City, said that as technology keeps advancing, it’s important to “make sure that it doesn’t worsen disparities.” Fleischut said this could be an issue if some of the population can’t access Telehealth due to gaps in coverage.

Fleischut said Telehealth would have other challenges to overcome, such as regulation issues associated with crossing state lines. He said, “If you see a provider and then cross a state line going home, you can’t have a video visit if the provider isn’t also licensed in your state.”

May 23, 2019

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