Digital health innovations and applications, including virtual doctor’s appointments and smartphone health apps, can help us live better and longer lives.
But many rural Californians don’t have access to these services as access to broadband internet and access to health care is rapidly becoming one and the same.
More than 5 million Californians live in rural areas and many don’t have enough doctors in their communities, as few as 43 primary care physicians per 100,000 people. Some rural residents are forced to drive hundreds of miles for specialty care.
Modern broadband communications networks and technologies can help bridge this gap, connecting patients though videoconferencing, remote patient monitoring and electronic messaging. With a tablet or smartphone, patients can virtually see doctors or specialists across the state. With mobile apps, patients can monitor a chronic condition and send real-time data to doctors for assessment and follow-up. This not only brings quality care to rural patients, but it also saves patients and caregivers time and money.
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As the state’s largest group of public health clinics and hospitals and doctors engaged in telehealth, California Telehealth Network has seen it accelerate considerably over the last two years. Our 450-plus sites report telemedicine consultations have increased by more than 60 percent over the past year. Thousands of patients in rural communities such as Alturas, Brawley, Portola, Ridgecrest and even Catalina Island can see a specialist without ever leaving their local community.
To continue this momentum and increase access and quality of health care in rural communities, it is crucial that providers have access to modern communications networks. We must encourage our elected officials and policymakers to continue investing in broadband and advanced technologies that will help level the playing field for rural areas and lower health care costs for the entire state.
Already, 96 percent of California has broadband access. We need to stay focused on reaching the rest of the state. The future of healthcare is clear. Everyone should have access to that future.
Eric Brown is CEO of California Telehealth Network. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.