Universal Broadband Necessary for Rural Health by Dr. Bill Cohen
For 21 years, I have been the proud owner and Medical Director of the American Pain Relief Institute. I treat many people who live in rural areas at my practice, where I provide patients with pain management care as an anesthesiologist. Due to COVID-19 precautions, I have had limited interactions with patients and have become increasingly aware of the vital importance of a successful transition to telehealth practices.
I am a strong supporter of telehealth and the benefits it has to the medical community and the patients I serve. I would like to see changes implemented through greater connectivity and broadband services. In rural parts of southern South Dakota there is a great need for affordable, reliable broadband services. My patients would benefit tremendously from greater connectivity.
Dr. Nirav V. Kamdar and other anesthesiologists at UCLA have been exploring areas where telehealth may be implemented into their practice, such as by using smart screen tools that are able to triage patients through virtual preoperative visits to “optimize care in the OR.” The group has completed 250 preoperative evaluations where patients use a smart device to log in to their electronic medical records, where they are able to submit an evaluation that includes an examination of neck mobility and airways.
From there, anesthesiologists are able to photograph the patient’s airways and store them in their online medical record. Of these evaluations, 97 percent of patients reported that they were satisfied with the telehealth experience, and 87 percent preferred the online consultation to an in-person one. Dr. Kadmar states that not only is saving time a “huge correlation to the patient experience,” but that telehealth visits will “make a huge difference in people’s lives”.
I believe that this application of telemedicine in the practice of anesthesiology will be revolutionary for the medical field, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this practice is useless without a resilient broadband network. The lack of connectivity in rural parts of America is threatening the health of many of our citizens. By providing rural Americans with greater connectivity, we can improve health care and reduce costs for patients.
I have been a leading advocate for expanding rural broadband in South Dakota, of which I have supported U.S. Senator John Thune and his initiative to bring connectivity to rural areas like mine. Senator Thune has shown excellent leadership with his piece of legislation, the Rural Connectivity Advancement Program (RCAP) Act of 2020. This would set aside 10 percent of net proceeds from spectrum auctions conducted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) through September 30, 2022, to build out broadband networks in rural parts of America. These rural parts would also include tribal lands and high-cost areas.
By having stronger broadband connectivity, it would be much easier to meet patients’ needs and keep up with medical best. If patients are unable to receive immediate and virtual care, their health—and even their lives—could be at stake. We are at a time where telehealth is not just an interesting possibility, but an immediate necessity. And without broadband, it is impossible. Broadband services must be implemented in rural parts of America to continue the practice of social distancing and remote care. The time to act is now.