Telehealth – Improving the Health and Economic Well-Being of Communities

By Craig Settles 

Telehealth is more than video chat with your doctor. It means using intranets and Internet networks to observe, diagnose, initiate or otherwise medically intervene, administer, monitor, record, and/or report on the continuum of care so that residents can heal and stay healthy.

Telehealth increases broadband’s economic development impact, and can add revenue streams for the network and/or the community. For example, 26% of economic development professionals in a national survey felt using telehealth to attract doctors and medical specialists would have a definitive impact on local economies. 

In Next Century Cities’ member city, Chattanooga, Tennessee, Radiologist Dr. Jim Busch took advantage of the city’s gigabit public broadband network by bringing the city’s radiologists under one organization, Diagnostic Radiology Consultants. 

Radiologists connect through the network to other team members and the city’s hospitals. Dr. Busch wrote software that, together with Chattanooga’s network, allows the team to serve more hospitals and patients, grow and expand the business, and create another hook that draws individuals and businesses to town.

The radiologists and medical facilities save 40 hours per radiologist per year, which represents a sizable dollar savings. Dr. Busch says it is not uncommon for more than 10 radiologists to send multiple large files simultaneously. This results in business savings and better care for patients.  

Broadband and telehealth can draw other healthcare professionals to your community. For example, “We have less than half of the psychiatric providers needed to meet the U.S. mental health demand,” says Encounter Telehealth CEO Jennifer Amis. “In the rural areas we may have less than 20% of the providers needed.” 

It’s worth noting that 28% of men and 17% of women in the U.S. don’t have a personal doctor or healthcare provider. There are higher rates for minorities, such as 33% of Hispanic women and 31% of African-American men. 

Before COVID-19 hit, a third of Americans were stressed out given this percentage has high blood pressure (hypertension), with an even higher percentage of African Americans having the ailment. COVID-19’s silver lining is that it accelerated telehealth’s use in treating hypertension and many other chronic diseases. If broadband deployments can keep up? [ Can’t figure out how to link this sentence to this URL]

I can’t emphasize it enough. The economic viability of certain rural and low-income urban communities depends heavily on the presence of healthcare professionals, virtually and in person. Being able to attract those healthcare professionals depends on affordable and reliable high-speed connectivity, a resource that is often in short supply in our fiscally challenged communities.

In addition to attracting medical professionals, telehealth’s economic benefits include (more details here about here [])

  • Slowing or reversing hospital closings
  • Reducing unnecessary visits to the ER
  • Attracting medical research grants
  • More mental healthcare services staying local
  • Keeping seniors living at home longer

Facilitating telehealth can also have a significant impact on the economics of the network itself. “The municipalities and co-ops can offer higher-value over-the-top services to care providers and patients, thus expanding their ARPU [average revenue per user], and make their bids for grant dollars more attractive,” says Mark Noble, Senior Vice President of Business Development for Telehealth vender ViTel Net. “Also, you can impress the committees evaluating grant applications by offering turnkey healthcare service delivery capabilities as opposed to ‘just plumbing’ for broadband.’”

Unquestionably, widespread broadband connectivity can improve access to care. The more prevalent telehealth is in your town, city or county, the healthier are your constituents, both physically and mentally. There’s no greater time to expand the benefits of connectivity while improving the health and economic well-being of your community. 

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