Broadband technology is now being used throughout the U.S. and globally, and the delivery of healthcare services can benefit greatly from this technology. Those underserved by healthcare are often the greatest beneficiaries of “telemedicine” – the use of high-speed broadband to facilitate patient monitoring, reporting, and treatment when time often spells the difference between life and death.
The technology is a game changer in substantially reducing healthcare disparities as well as costs. Innovative telemedicine technology makes possible virtual medical consultations, electronic medical records, healthcare monitoring applications, and – of course – mobile health applications. With African Americans and Latinos using mobile broadband technology at a higher rate than any other demographic group in the U.S., there is a great opportunity to leverage mobile health technology to address healthcare disparities.
One of the nation’s leaders in advancing telemedicine is the National Organization of Black Elected Legislative (NOBEL) Women. Recently, NOBEL Women launched its National Telemedicine Legislation Initiative in partnership with policymakers and leading healthcare experts. The initiative focuses on improving access to healthcare by updating and expanding state and federal telehealth laws.
During a roundtable discussion hosted by NOBEL Women in preparation for the launch of the organization’s telemedicine initiative, NOBEL Women President and Louisiana State Senator Sharon Weston Broome noted that there is a severe shortage of doctors in our country, particularly within the Medicare program. Senator Weston Broome declared that by empowering consumers with an understanding of the benefits of telemedicine, we can ensure improved delivery of healthcare services and improved doctor-patient relationships across the board.
According to the American Heart and Stroke Association, African Americans have a much higher risk of stroke compared to other Americans, and 20 percent of African Americans over 30 suffer from diabetes according to the American Diabetes Association. These professional associations agree that healthcare disparity statistics can be reduced if the delivery of healthcare services is supplemented with telemedicine options, particularly when it comes to connecting patients with specialists who can provide specialized care.
Legislation mandating coverage for telemedicine service varies by state. Fourteen states have adopted mandates for telemedicine, and similar legislation has been introduced in additional states. NOBEL Women’s goal is to secure mandated telemedicine services nationwide.
Federal Communications Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who participated in NOBEL Women’s roundtable discussion stated at the Minority Media and Telecom Council’s July 2012 Access to Capital and Telecom Policy Conference that a $4 million investment in the Universal Service Fund would help the U.S. move forward in the delivery of telemedicine. She added that a $7.9 million investment has already resulted in a total savings of approximately $18 million within the Medicaid program – an investment that has allowed for new initiatives such as tele-psychology programs to be introduced to Medicaid patients.
Access to information is key, according to Commissioner Clyburn. By sharing what the Commission is doing in this space, more Americans will be better informed about the endless possibilities for care that are offered by telemedicine.
Ultimately, the charge for NOBEL Women is to engage other large national organizations in the telemedicine initiative. Ensuring that all Americans understand the benefits of telemedicine will take a concerted effort among community advocates, policymakers, and regulators. NOBEL Women will soon issue its 2013 Call to Action plan, which will set out the organization’s plans to advocate for telemedicine at the state and federal level.
Support for telemedicine by all 50 state governments is a prime opportunity to facilitate the use of broadband technology to deliver effective, cost-efficient healthcare to America’s most underserved communities.