In case you missed it, recently there was an opinion piece in the Argus Leader by Dr. Bill Cohen highlighting the need for increased access to reliable broadband across South Dakota in order to improve health care outcomes.
Cohen’s piece focuses on the premise that there is a severe gap in access to health care across South Dakota due to inadequate Internet access to utilize telemedicine. Dr. Cohen discusses: “Around 52 percent of S.D.’s population lives in rural areas. Furthermore, 72 percent of S.D. hospitals are deemed as critical access sites in rural areas. These rural hospitals are often the only health care option in their area, but specialists are not often available… Telemedicine would allow hospitals to access critical resources and medical opinions without increased costs.”
The need for telemedicine access has been talked about in the state since the time of George Mickelson and Bill Janklow. We’ve made inroads, but we’re not there yet.
Due to the lack of telemedicine access, healthcare specialists are often only available to those able to travel long distances, according to Dr. Cohen. By increasing the availability of telemedicine, specialists could be reached 24 hours a day, anywhere in the state and reduce healthcare costs. However, this cannot be accomplished until broadband access is improved in rural areas.
Seriously. There are some people who are using their phones if they can get reception at all, or they go scouting around for an old AOL disk.
Significantly slower Internet access in rural areas creates a rural/urban digital divide and represents a lag in services available. However, this divide can and should be eliminated by giving rural populations access to broadband connectivity through new technological advances developed to accomplish this goal.
By increasing broadband, telemedicine can expand in South Dakota and have a positive impact on rural patients’ quality of care. As Cohen states in his opinion piece, “Telemedicine is a positive for patients and doctors. Patients would have lower costs to see a specialist due to video chat sessions being short and to be the point. Also, patients would no longer have to travel hours, which often leads to lost wages, in order to see a specialist. The decreased travel time would also benefit doctors who could then see more patients on a daily basis.”
This rural divide does not have to exist. The group Connect Americans Now (CAN) plans to eliminate this gap within the next five years by utilizing TV white space technology. Traditional fiber cable is often too costly to run to rural areas, and by using TV white space CAN looks to cut operating costs by roughly 80 percent.
CAN is poised to reach its goal, but needs the support of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ensure that there is a sufficient spectrum available for wireless use on an unlicensed basis in every market in the country.
It’s time for the FCC to support CAN’s goal and bring broadband access to rural America.