Physician viewpoint: Broadband is 'crucial' for telehealth access

While telehealth and remote patient monitoring can improve rural individuals' access to healthcare, these virtual care services are "very much dependent" on broadband internet access, according to Karen Rheuban, MD, director of Charlottesville-based University of Virginia Center for Telehealth. 

While the UVA telehealth program connects physicians and nurses with patients at more than 150 facilities across Virginia, its services wouldn't be possible with broadband internet access, Dr. Rheuban wrote in an op-ed for Virginia Mercury. Further, 660,000 Virginia residents lack broadband access, which leaves them unable to participate in UVA's remote patient monitoring services.

"Not surprisingly, those same unconnected communities report some of the worst health outcomes in the commonwealth," Dr. Rheuban wrote. "…Exciting developments in telehealth are happening in Virginia and beyond, but state and federal leaders must continue to increase public investment in broadband and telemedicine services."

Dr. Rheuban highlighted the Federal Communications Commission's initiative to establish a $100 million connected care pilot program, which aims to increase access to care for low-income rural patients and veterans. She also touched on some of UVA's own remote patient monitoring services, including remote video and vital sign monitoring for newborn babies that leave the intensive care unit.

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