A new bill on Capitol Hill, created by rural healthcare providers, state legislators, healthcare organizations and telemedicine experts, seeks to help urban healthcare providers expand telemedicine programs to rural areas by giving them access to federal funds for broadband connectivity.
The act, “Reaching Underserved Rural Areas to Lead on Telehealth (RURAL) Act,” was introduced this month by Senators Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Roger Wicker, R-Miss. and is a reintroduction of a 2016 law.
Affordable broadband connectivity is the primary force making telemedicine possible. It could be argued that rural residents need access to telemedicine even more than their urban counterparts because they have less access to healthcare services and a higher percentage of unhealthy habits and chronic diseases.
The FCC created a database in which roughly half of the nation’s counties were identified as double burden counties with high levels of chronic disease and a lack of broadband. That means more than 36 million Americans live in double burden counties. Additionally, almost 7 million Americans live in “digitally isolated” counties, which have broadband access below 50% and diabetes and obesity rates above the national average. Preventable hospital stays, which would benefit greatly from telemedicine, are 150% higher in the least connected counties.