Viewpoint: Telehealth expansion strategies must go beyond broadband access

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While investing in high-speed broadband is necessary to expand access to telehealth in rural and underserved areas, communities will need to work with local healthcare organizations to develop strategies that meet their unique needs.

In a June 9 op-ed for GovTech, Craig Settles, a community broadband consultant and analyst, explained that while federal funding will help expand telemedicine initiatives across the country, "broadband strategy has to be more than dropping off a bunch of fiber to the nearest hospital and declaring victory," adding that hospital telemedicine programs and broadband strategies should be developed collectively to fit the needs of the community.

At College Station-based Texas A&M University's telehealth counseling clinic, program participants partner with various rural counties in the state to provide behavioral health services and treatment. These partner organizations include different types of physical spaces, such as clinics, schools and hospitals. At these sites, patients can meet staff online and/or in person, whichever best suits their needs.

The telehealth counseling clinic uses broadband to offer distance learning and train people who live in rural areas in mental healthcare skills to then serve their respective communities. "All of my counselors right now are advanced doctoral students," said Carly McCord, clinical services director of the telehealth clinic, according to the report. "We are training the next generation of health professionals for work in underserved communities and for work with telehealth."

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