April 2021 Digital Health Roundup

April 2021 Digital Health Roundup

Advances in digital health are great, as long as everyone has access to what’s being offered, but not everyone does, and that creates what’s known as the digital divide, the gap between those who have access to internet services and those who don’t. In an effort to close the divide, a new federal program has been approved, reports govtech.com. The $3.2 billion dollar program, called the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, was established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to help cover internet service costs for qualifying households. Funded by the December 2020 COVID-19 relief bill the program provides a discount on monthly internet services, and a one-time discount to purchase a laptop, desktop, or tablet from participating providers. While the program has been authorized by the FCC, a start date has not yet been set, but program updates and information can be found here at www.fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit, and the sign up process is expected to begin by the end of this month. The FCC has also provided a link to frequently asked questions about the program that can be found here. In addition, there are other companies working to make internet access more affordable. Those organizations and more information about the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program can be found here.

The FCC notes that access to broadband, or high-speed internet, is critical to economic opportunity, job creation, education, and civic engagement. With that type of impact, it’s only natural to conclude that as healthcare becomes more and more digitally dependent, broadband is also critical to ensuring the best health outcomes for patients. Unfortunately, there are a number of areas and populations where broadband isn’t available. Almost 100 percent of urban Americans have high-speed internet access, but only 65 percent of rural Americans do, and the number is even lower in Tribal areas. A total of 30 million Americans lack access to the benefits of broadband service.

So, to bridge the digital divide and bring broadband to more Americans, the FCC has begun several key initiatives, including the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. Get more information about the other initiatives here, and find detailed information about broadband, how it works, and what it’s advantages are, and how to get it in your area here. Check broadband availability in specific areas here.

Proof of the digital divide in healthcare came last year during the pandemic when telehealth services grew in mostly wealthy and metro areas, reports healthcareitnews.com. A study examining insurance claims shows that while telemedicine visits increased, they didn’t offset the full decline in office visits. The study also revealed that the telemedicine services were mostly used in metropolitan areas and areas with lower poverty levels and by people with private insurance. Hopefully, programs like the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program will help make telemedicine more equally accessible. Learn more about the study here.

Hoping to better understand the impact of telemedicine, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) is recommending a continuation of telemedicine services. MedPAC is advocating to continue telemedicine flexibilities for Medicare and Medicaid services that were implemented during the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) to ensure access to and quality of care, reports policymed.com. MedPAC recommends the continuation of the telemedicine services paid for by Medicare and Medicaid for another year or two and states the time should be used to determine the impact of telemedicine for patient care. The information could provide a greater understanding about how access to telehealth impacts quality of care. Learn more here.

Meanwhile, the digital health technology continues to advance. Soon we could all be getting healthcare house calls from drones, reports mhealthintelligence.com. The drone is still being developed, but it can carry medical and test supplies in its waterproof compartment and facilitate telehealth visits, all while surveying living conditions. The hope is to use drones in rural areas where access to healthcare isn’t as readily available as in urban areas. Learn more about the telehealth drones here.