The Role of Broadband Scarcity in Shaping Health

Overcoming social determinants of health (SDOH) represents one of the most promising frontiers in improving healthcare outcomes and reducing healthcare costs in the United States. How to approach this complex task is generating a lot of buzz in the industry lately and rightly so. While the conversations about food instability, transportation, language and social barriers are critically important, so is a discussion about the negative consequences of broadband scarcity. In 2016, a U.S. Federal Communications Commission official called fast and reliable internet access a “super-determinant of health.” 

Rural and remote areas already have significant SDOH challenges with lower economic status, provider shortages, healthcare illiteracy and transportation issues. Rural hospitals are closing at alarming rates. Broadband scarcity has a negative multiplier effect on all of these variables and more.

A dangerous intersection

Most Americans reflexively turn to the internet to initiate interactions with the healthcare system. The ability to research medical conditions, compare health plans and providers, and manage plan benefits is right there at their fingertips. Many of these interactions are a prelude to finding and receiving quality care. Yet nearly 10 percent of the population doesn’t have broadband access and a portion of the overall population has access but simply doesn’t use the internet. Without a connection, it becomes much harder to engage remote and rural populations for basic health interventions, not to mention the difficulties it poses for management of complex and chronic conditions.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has rolled out Mapping Broadband Health in America 2017, a sophisticated online tool that displays overlays of disease occurrence and broadband access for more than 3,000 U.S. counties. The picture that emerges is striking. The correlation between broadband access and health is clear.

“What we have found in too many places are skyrocketing rates of chronic disease … and a lack of broadband-enabled health resources that could make a real difference,” said Mignon L. Clyburn, a former FCC commissioner. “These are the so-called ‘double burden’ counties – communities where high health needs and poor connectivity intersect.”

The tool offers drill-down views into counties for health indicators and how they align with broadband access. Users can view data about obesity, hospital admissions, physician access and sick days separately or in relation to broadband access. The data can be viewed in multiple ways and downloaded in several formats. State officials and health plans can use the tool to understand priority needs for some of their highest-risk members and incorporate this data into their service planning and strategies.

GuidingCare on the go

Altruista Health is helping health plans tackle healthcare’s remote and rural frontier with the Mobile Clinician app, which has a new Google Maps feature that makes field work more convenient for clinicians. The tool can map routes for clinicians who are visiting plan members in their homes and communities. Mobile Clinician works on- or offline with tablets so clinicians can conduct physical and mental health assessments, create care and activity plans, make referrals to social services and capture member signatures. Mobile Clinician seamlessly syncs to the core GuidingCare platform when the clinician returns to a connected area. To learn more, click here

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