Broadband Health Technology and the Underserved – Why We Should Care

For many of us, broadband and high speed wireless communication are now part of everyday life. Yet many still lack even basic access to the internet through broadband. A Nov. 3 article in the New York Times reported on “Digital Disparities Facing Lower-Income Teenagers,” noting that “only one-fourth of teenagers in households with less than $35,000 in annual income said they had their own laptops” and “one-tenth of lower-income teenagers said they had only dial-up web access.” And the impact on health and healthcare is what the Federal Communications Commission wanted to highlight by hosting roundtables in Cleveland and Detroit last week

The Cleveland event was presented at the HIMSS Innovation Center; Commissioner Clyburn was in town to address the Cleveland Clinic Medical Innovation Summit, which gave her the opportunity to have this listening session. The invited presentations meant the FCC commissioner and her staff could learn more about what was happening in the revival of this industrial city and who was still left behind.

John Paganini, HIMSS Innovation Center and FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.

John Paganini, HIMSS Innovation Center and FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.

The discussion began with a presentation on two parallel initiatives in Cleveland to expand the availability of broadband and add health technology job development. One Community is a non-profit broadband provider that connects major institutions throughout the community, including hospitals, universities, and also, the Health-Tech Corridor with office space for startup tech businesses.

One Community also provides broadband to libraries and community centers, extending its reach into poorer neighborhoods. Presentations also highlighted the lack of broadband to homes in underserved communities. Digital exclusion is a new term pinpointing a specific aspect of the digital divide, which is described as a lack of access to the internet - including through broadband. Two statistics emphasized current challenges in Cleveland’s underserved households: noted:

  • 59% of households with incomes below $20,000 reported having no home internet service of any kind including mobile and dialup.
  • Only 57% of households with incomes below $20,000 said they used the internet anywhere.

Other barriers discussed were: how to increase broadband adoption through trusted institutions in the community and how to keep the issue of equity in the forefront of planning and policy.

Some new initiatives are attempting to address the digital exclusion. These include:

Representing HIMSS and a national perspective, my presentation enumerated the range of telehealth solutions available,benefits for patients and trends showing promise in this area. I also discussed disparity in broadband availability as well as information I heard from a community worker: the potential for theft of devices is a concern in low-income, high-crime communities.

The roundtable concluded with presentations by some of the winners from the Cleveland Medical Hackathon held at the HIMSS Innovation Center in September. These apps show creative approaches to address health problems in underserved communities.

Why should we expand broadband as a resource to all?

One of the primary incentives in healthcare is population health. If provider organizations want to reach out to patients in the community using mobile devices, the patient homes need broadband access or these initiatives will fail

At the HIMSS Connected Health Conference (which includes mHealth, Cybersecurity and Population Health topics), Nov.8-11 in Washington, DC, the FCC Connect2Health initiatives will be presented in two sessions:

Register now to see these speakers and the full spectrum of presentations on connected health.

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