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IMA Wellness Blog

The Doctor Will Skype with You Now

by Lindsay M. Miller


Ice Miller is an IMA member law firm…

The proliferation of the Internet of Things creates unprecedented new uses for internet-enabled devices and heightens the demand for high-speed connectivity among residential and commercial users. One example of such uses is telemedicine and associated applications to monitor patients, personnel, and medical devices.

These applications were highlighted at the Ohio Telecom Association (OTA) 122nd Annual Conference, which took place May 30-31 in Columbus, Ohio. Specifically, Rick Schadelbauer, Manager of Economic Research and Analysis for NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, presented NTCA’s recent paper entitled “Anticipating Economic Returns of Rural Telehealth”.

NTCA’s paper clarifies the difference between telemedicine and telehealth. The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) defines telemedicine as “the remote delivery of health care services and clinical information using telecommunications technology. This includes a wide variety of clinical services using internet, wireless, satellite and telephone media.” In comparison, “telehealth” includes telemedicine and nonclinical services, such as provider training and administrative meetings.

According to the paper, telehealth decreases costs for travel, lost wages, and hospital fees, and increases local revenues for lab work and pharmacies, particularly in rural areas. However, the paper emphasizes that “[t]he continuing advancement of telemedicine and the accrual of its potential benefits to patients, health care providers, health care facilities and the communities that house them will not be possible without high-quality, reliable broadband infrastructure.”

Yet, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in 2016, 34 million Americans did not have access to broadband that meets the Commission’s current definition of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download/ 3 Mbps upload; a speed that, according to the authors, “would make telemedicine viable.” Notably, 23 million of these individuals are in rural America.

Rural areas are widely understood to be more challenging and costly to serve with broadband access due to topography challenges and low population densities. As such, several states have considered or enacted legislation to incentivize broadband build-out in un- or underserved areas. For example, since 2014, Minnesota’s “Border-to-Border Broadband” competitive matching grant program has helped to connect more than 29,000 homes and businesses, and approximately 250 community anchor institutions, including hospitals, to high-speed broadband. The grants can provide up to 50 percent of project development costs and the maximum grant is $5 million. Several other states have explored and/ or passed legislation to incentivize broadband build-out.

As with countless industries, IoT will impact healthcare in ways that are not yet fully imaginable. However, these impacts will not be possible without access to robust, high-speed broadband.


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