Lack of broadband access limits telemedicine in rural communities, study finds

The scarcity of broadband access in rural counties may leave the residents of those areas unable to experience telemedicine appointments, Reuters reports.

A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine analyzed whether telemedicine could help improve patients' health in areas where physicians are sparse, according to Reuters.

To do this, researchers mapped out geographic areas that would require a patient to drive more than an hour to visit a primary care physician or specialist. The research team then used Federal Communications Commission data to determine whether individuals who lived in the distant geographic areas had broadband access, or a way to download data at a sufficient speed to support a video-based telehealth visit.

Researchers found that as distance between cities increased, the percentage of broadband access subscribers decreased, with broadband rates of 96 percent in urban counties, 82.7 percent in rural counties and 59.9 percent in counties with extreme access consideration. Additionally, the subscription rate was 38.6 percent in counties with inadequate access to primary care physicians and psychiatrists.

"Over the last decade especially, there has been considerable interest in the potential for telehealth to make it easier to access healthcare," said Coleman Drake, lead study author and assistant health policy and management professor at University of Pittsburgh, Reuters reports. "We wondered if telemedicine really could help bridge the gap in access to care. And we discovered that in a lot of rural areas, the lack of access to broadband is potentially limiting access to telehealth."

More articles on telehealth:
CommonSpirit Health, Contessa launch in-home care services
IU Health patient says hospital's mobile stroke unit saved his life
UPMC forms telemedicine company to target infectious diseases

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