Merging Telehealth and Community Broadband

According to our contributing writer, delivering virtual care via community broadband has significant financial and quality-of-life benefits, paving the way for digital and health equity.

Telehealth and community broadband are two technologies that work together.

Telehealth is more than just video chats – it employs intranets and internet networks to monitor, diagnose, initiate, or otherwise medically intervene, administer, monitor, record, and report on the continuum of care that individuals receive when they are ill, injured, or wish to keep well.

If we use telehealth and telemedicine tools to their maximum potential, we can save a lot of money and time in the healthcare industry. Telehealth has a lot of potential in the field of public health.

In the meantime, community broadband refers to networks owned by towns, cities, counties, local telephone and electric cooperatives, wireless internet service providers (WISPs), and other local ISPs. Municipalities or counties frequently initiate Public-private partnerships.

However, because big firms frequently have high costs, poor service, and inadequate infrastructure, towns around the country are constructing their own—the people they serve benefit from these networks.

When telehealth and community broadband are combined, the financial and quality-of-life benefits are enormous. These technologies also make it possible for underserved communities in towns, cities, and counties to achieve digital and health equity.

But keep in mind that telehealth is impossible to implement without broadband.

In terms of strategy

Let’s divide telehealth down into three categories and look at a public library that has decided to offer telehealth in certain of its branches as an example.

Real-time telehealth refers to activities “right now,” with medical or healthcare experts frequently involved. Perhaps the more extensive library branches might set aside reading rooms or acquire telehealth kiosks so that patrons can make appointments or drop in for private, secure telehealth sessions with their doctor in real-time.

Store-and-forward Telehealth is the process of electronically collecting medical data, digital photographs, and other information and sending it to another location for review.

Let’s imagine a telehealth business can come to your house on Monday to collect lab work and deliver it to the lab on Tuesday.

The doctor wants to discuss enormous files from the lab work with you, and your home internet connection is too slow, so you go to a library telehealth kiosk on Thursday for the appointment.

Digital knowledge bases, health and wellness Web material, and interactive software programs that help us understand, avoid, treat, or recover from risks to our physical and mental health are called “passive” telehealth.

You ask the librarian for assistance sorting through their medical video clips relating to your diagnosis after your telemedicine visit.

Libraries and their healthcare partners must guarantee that enough bandwidth is available to support numerous audio and video streams.

This necessitates business-level internet connectivity rather than consumer-grade bandwidth. Whether the bandwidth is delivered via wireless or fiber, it must be synchronous (i.e., equal download and upload speeds) and large enough to accommodate numerous video streams.

A tactical action framework

Here are six tactical methods to employ telehealth to leverage or optimize neighborhood public health and related broadband usage.

1. Reimagining the doctor’s office visit for various medical procedures, such as observation, screening, data collection, data interchange, and medical counseling.

Those working in public health and other healthcare sectors should assume that any location with high-speed broadband and at least 10 feet × 10 feet of accessible space is viable for creating a patient-doctor relationship.

Take a barbershop or hair salon, a laptop, adequate broadband, a healthcare partner, some cash, and a possible telehealth site.

2. Combining chronic telehealth healthcare and home care makes regular appointments and treatments more convenient at home or in the office.

In July, the White House enlisted 1,000 barbershops and hair salons to serve as COVID immunization sites. Consider designating some of them as Telehealth Ground Zero by:

  • Sponsoring the installation of fixed-wireless broadband on the roofs of several surrounding structures, and
  • Distributing wireless routers to nearby families. 

Hire the shops and salons to expose people to telehealth by having a neighborhood WISP offer and support a permanent broadband solution. Departments of health may be able to oversee chronic care.

3. Improving emergency response times to save more lives

Create stand-alone high-speed Internet stations along rural hospital routes that emergency vehicles may connect to if patients’ situations worsen, or designate schools, libraries, and other buildings as telehealth way stations for cars.

Use these stations in a natural disaster, when people may be cut off from medical assistance for days or weeks.

4. Improving the efficiency with which mental health care is delivered

According to the United Health Foundation, approximately 20,000 persons per 100,000 in the United States have a mental illness, while only 268 mental health providers for every 100,000 people.

Telehealth has the potential to improve provider efficiency and reduce downtime. The Texas A&M Telehealth Counseling Clinic’s director of clinical services, Carly McCord, explained: “We’re talking about rigorous therapy, such as treating PTSD, which can’t be done with slow internet.

When your patient tells you about trauma and your connection goes down, you miss a word and have to apologize. ‘Could you repeat that?’ This is a major issue.”

5. Improving senior care and allowing seniors to age in place

Seniors are addressed in several facets of telehealth, but the main goal is to guarantee that seniors continue to get treatment and live safely in their homes for longer.

Innovative home technologies, including wirelessly controlled sensors, are a significant broadband component of this healthcare equation. Some sensors can now tell if a person sat up in bed or fell asleep on the floor, ate frequently, and took their meds on time.

6. One of the few positive lessons learned from the pandemic is reimagining what hospital care can be.

Consider hospitals in a new light. “Almost the simplest and cost-effective method to handle remote monitoring of patients recovering from surgical operations is to convert dormitory facilities,” Peter Caplan, managing consultant for New York-based eHealth Systems & Solutions.

Last year, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot repurposed 2,000 rooms at five hotels to house asymptomatic persons who needed isolation due to COVID-19, easing the pressure on hospitals and providing financial support to hotels whose occupancy rates had plummeted.

Work follows the dream.

These telehealth ideas and methods might help you think about combining telemedicine and broadband deployment. To make these dreams a reality, a lot of legwork and community needs analysis and much community stakeholder planning are required. Is your community ready to help you finish the job?

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