The need for healthcare can be a significant driver of broadband adoption. Everyone gets sick or is responsible for others who are sick. It’s universal. The need to get well and stay well drives a myriad of telehealth technologies. Because you can’t have most telehealth apps without broadband, every time you deploy telehealth, broadband is also in the picture. Plan on it.

“Using telehealth to drive broadband adoption is effective,” said Matt Larsen in an interview. Larsen is the CEO of Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) Vistabeam. 

“The first step is to get customers comfortable with collecting basic health data daily through an app,” he said. “Vistabeam is working on a pilot project that includes a community center with a private telehealth consultation room that we will facilitate with our staff. As customers get more confident with telehealth, they will be more comfortable with using telehealth at home as well as developing other digital skills.”

Frederick Memorial Hospital in Maryland is currently giving away hundreds of tablet computers and Internet access to monitor patients who have chronic ailments such as diabetes and heart diseases. The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) linked 54 mostly rural hospitals via public broadband into a telestroke network that evolved to treat other acute care patients. These recovering patients are excellent candidates for broadband-delivered care.

Telehealth is ripe with the potential to create many new healthcare solutions and bring broadband adoption right along with it. The key to telehealth and broadband success is a creation-orientation. With this approach, the goal is to create something great that didn’t before exist – new uses for existing structures and new methods for keeping healthy. A community can step away from conventional thinking to push the envelope or reimagine it.

Creation-Orientation Starts with Effective Needs Assessments 

You want to assess the general health of the entire town or county but then examine in more detail health issues of the different populations within the jurisdiction. Certain illnesses and medical issues will be more prevalent depending on constituents’ economic status, ethnicity, education, gender, and location. 

Determine what is the quality of the community’s healthcare, and the quality of the community’s access to healthcare

“Start with the county public health department,” said Peter Caplan in an interview. He is the managing marketing consultant for New York-based eHealth Techniques & Options. “They are tasked with doing a county health assessment and a health improvement plan.” 

Next, push the envelope of telehealth creativity with stakeholders such as elected officials, library directors, community activists, and unofficial leaders such as ministers, hairdressers, and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts. Here are some orienting questions to start with: If you have an immigrant population, where do they currently meet to socialize? Can telehealth be delivered there? If there is a homeless shelter nearby, does it make sense to set up a telehealth kiosk here? If there is a local gym, why not have appropriate equipment on hand to temporarily transform the gym into a telehealth center during natural disasters?

With Creative Telehealth, Broadband Adoption Follows

As communities create strategic implementations of telehealth and healthcare, determine which broadband services, tactics, and devices support the telehealth, including digital inclusion, digital and health literacy, and smart home technologies. 

Reinvent the doctor’s office visit: Wherever there is fast broadband available in at least 10’ by 10’ space, together with some healthcare partners, that’s a potential spot for telehealth. 

“I would designate the barbershop and salon as ‘community anchor institutions,’ which are the magic words broadband industry people understand,” Larsen said. “Then deliver telehealth through these anchors to drive new subscribers to the broadband network in neighborhoods around the anchor.”

Community “anchors’ are creation-orientation gold mines:laundromats, commercial gyms, churches, supermarkets, Kiwanis clubs, etc. Recruit the department of health, a local ISP, and a few creative local activists and they can generate ideas that make sizable dents in the digital divide.   

Marry telehealth chronic healthcare and home care: Remote patient monitoring (RPM) is an increasingly popular telehealth app. Hospitals send patients home with Internet access and devices that transmit vital signs, changing medical conditions and treatments, and can save hospitals millions of dollars. 

Hospitals can increase adoption by deploying more RPM and partnering with ISPs to leverage the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). ACP is a subsidy of up to $30 per month for Internet service and up to $75 monthly for homes on qualifying Tribal lands, plus it offers a $100 discount on devices such as laptops and tablets. 

Enhance the emergency response and save more lives: Compared to urban residents, rural residents have higher rates of mortality from heart disease, respiratory disease, cancer, stroke, and unintentional injury. Low-income rural African Americans and other populations of color have the highest rates of strokes, heart attacks, and other medical trauma. 

These communities are hit the hardest by hospital closings. Reverse these trends by creating telestroke or telehealth critical care “broadband subnetworks” that are hosted by major hospitals, and linked to rural Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), clinics, and other facilities. Set up broadband subsidy programs specifically for telehealth for recovering patients. 

Expand efficiency of mental healthcare delivery: About 20,000 people per 100,000 in the U.S.experience some form of mental illness, but there are only 268 mental health providers for every 100,000 people. Forward-thinking cities and towns can place telehealth kiosks and fixed wireless broadband in strip malls as well as in trendy parts of town. Kiosks are discreet, relatively inexpensive, and easy to fit into the surroundings. Also, home may not be the place where some people feel safe, so libraries and churches can host telehealth sessions at their facilities. Market programs that encourage and incentivize “laptops for good mental health.”

Improve senior care and facilitate aging in place: Telehealth benefits particularly seniors wanting to receive healthcare and live safely in their homes for longer, especially as mobility issues make doctor visits harder,” said Peter Caplan of Techniques & Options. “A lot of rural communities are populated heavily with older people who suffer from chronic conditions that telehealth can address.” 

Broadband planners should support infrastructure redundancies in health-related facilities in senior communities as well as smart-home and telehealth technologies. “If a senior falls, many times something will break, which leads to hospital stays, surgeries, and rehabs,” said Anthony Cirillo, president of the Aging Experience. “A person in their 70s or older who has any type of a major medical event often faces a cycle of greater complications later on.” 

Broadband planners need to be a step or two ahead of the telehealth game.

Craig Settles, saved from a stroke by telehealth, pays it forward by uniting community broadband teams and healthcare stakeholders through telehealth initiatives.

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