Telehealth needs broadband to be effective

Britain

The promise of telehealth is to help Wallowa County residents and all Oregonians receive quality affordable healthcare where they live. In a time of increasing healthcare uncertainty telehealth tools offer smarter ways for clinicians to provide good healthcare to their patients at affordable prices.

Telehealth tools such as video consultation, remote patient monitoring, and direct-to-patient virtual care allow patients to access their care teams without the barriers of time and distance.

For example a Parkinson’s patient in La Grande can see his provider at OHSU for follow-up care using a video visit thus avoiding a long and painful trip to Portland. Many of these services can now be provided to patients in their homes.

Using telehealth tools requires high speed Internet service. Yet, access to this service is not always available in rural areas especially patient homes, small clinics and skilled nursing facilities often where it is most needed.

Most of the hospitals in Oregon have broadband access, but providing it to small clinics and homes in rural areas via traditional means such as fiber optic cable has proven too costly leaving many rural people on the wrong side of the digital divide. We need to find other ways to expand rural broadband access.

Telehealth Alliance of Oregon is a nonprofit resource center working to advance telehealth policy and practice in Oregon. Finding ways to expand broadband access has been one of its ongoing efforts. To that end, the alliance has joined a new coalition called Connect Americans Now.

The coalition has an actionable plan to help close the digital divide by 2022 by utilizing a combination of solutions and leveraging a range of wireless transmission frequencies including TV white spaces.

TV white spaces are bands of spectrum that have been left unused as TV broadcasters have begun broadcasting a digital signal. This spectrum can be used to deliver broadband access services.

As cost is one of the major barriers to rural broadband expansion, the fact that this white space spectrum can be used to deliver broadband over long distances could be an effective solution.

However, the Federal Communications Commission must take definitive action to make this plan a reality. Specifically, it is critical to ensure that this white space spectrum is made available for wireless use on an unlicensed basis in every market in the country.

This regulatory certainty would allow local service providers, equipment vendors and chip manufacturers to quicken the pace of their investments, mass produce lower-cost equipment and bring more and better connectivity into rural communities.

We know the promise that telehealth holds as a tool to improve health outcomes and reduce costs, but we need broadband to realize that promise. This TV white space opportunity is one worth seizing.

Catherine S. Britain is the Executive Director of the Telehealth Alliance of Oregon

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