Broadband and Health Outcomes: AMIA, Others Weigh In

To state the (very) obvious: Access to high-quality telehealth care is nearly impossible without access to high-quality broadband Internet. While progress has been made when it comes to the expansion of U.S. broadband infrastructure, studies have shown that more than 30 million Americans still lack access to high-speed broadband Internet, including as many as 39 percent of people residing in rural areas. Now, the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) is calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to recognize the potential negative impact that lack of broadband access can have on health outcomes. As Health IT Analytics first reported, AMIA urged the FCC in a letter to consider broadband access “a social determinant of health,” given its importance to telehealth and other mobile health technologies, as they craft broadband policy.

AMIA’s letter, which was sent to the FCC in response to a request for comments on its ongoing Connect2Health initiative, highlights the disparities that exist when it comes to broadband access. “Race, ethnic, and age disparities in patient portal use and readiness and preferences for using digital communication for health-related purposes have shown to be significant, and this, in turn, reduces their ability to participate in many new and exciting mHealth solutions,” the organization asserts. They also offer a series of recommendations and suggested areas of focus for the agency, including efforts to combat the opioid epidemic through mobile technologies. “Broadband-enabled health care delivery can play a critical role in multiple stages of an individual’s rehabilitation and better engage such individuals who live in rural areas,” AMIA states, citing recent studies. The organization further urges the FCC to focus on patients with chronic health conditions; specifically, it “should look to align programs that can bolster efforts to better target those with chronic conditions, and ensure that these populations have access to affordable broadband and broadband-enabled health technologies.” Finally, accurately mapping the availability of broadband and bolstering privacy and security round out AMIA’s list of suggested FCC priorities. “We are excited about the possibilities this new paradigm will have for bringing new and innovative therapies to American consumers,” the organization concludes.

The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) also responded to the FCC’s request for comments, recommending that the agency “extend the availability, capacity, and quality of broadband infrastructure, to the maximum extent economically feasible,” and encouraging it to prioritize the development of a 5G network. Earlier this year, newly appointed FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai had inspired hope among some telehealth advocates when he pointed to the importance of investing in broadband infrastructure for expanding access to health care. During a visit to the Cleveland Clinic, Pai observed that telemedicine “provides direct access to health care providers in a way patients previously couldn’t have had.” He has also voiced support for the Connect2Health initiative.

Click here for the article from Health IT Analytics on broadband and health outcomes.

Click here for the letter from AMIA to the FCC.

Click here for the letter from ATA to the FCC.


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