At the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council’s Fourth Annual Broadband and Social Justice Summit last week, the organization for the first time held a panel on telemedicine – healthcare powered by broadband internet, also referred to as telehealth.
The “Broadband Solutions for Accessible and Affordable Healthcare Delivery and Education in the 21st Century” panel featured representatives from minority lawmaker caucuses, two federal agencies, and three medical associations.
The discussants spoke about a few factors that can help fuel the deployment and usage of telehealthcare services across the country.
According to Dr. Jon Linkous, chief executive officer of the American Telemedicine Association, 10 million Americans were served by telehealth within the last year, and while the adoption rate is slow nationally, things in the industry are changing rapidly.
Maryland State Senator Catherine Pugh, who represented the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBSCL) and the National Organization of Black Legislative Women (NOBEL Women) at the panel, said that telemedicine’s “…growth requires investment and expansion of broadband.” She also stressed that telehealth is important to America’s future.
“It’s important that we look at investing in broadband. If we’re not investing in it, we’re not investing in America,” she said.
Linda Oliver, Federal Communications Commission Telecommunications Access Policy Division deputy chief, said that telehealth could help patients and society save money in the long run. She said that the high bandwidth broadband needed to implement telehealth is a helpful technology because it allows patients and physicians to receive and advise treatment, respectively, via video conferences from remote locations, among other necessary activities.
Jessica Zufulo, deputy administrator of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS), mentioned that RUS focuses its efforts on financing the broadband Oliver mentioned. Zufulo also said that RUS has a comprehensive approach to financing broadband technology. The department has financed programs for rural areas and unserved areas for medical needs for decades.
In addition to saving consumers and healthcare providers with costs, National Association of Hispanic Nurses Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer Celia Trigo Besore said that a combination of telehealth and a trained healthcare provider can increase access to quality healthcare to the populations that need it most.
Linkous and Pugh , whose organizations recently announced a partnership to advance telemedicine legislation at the state level, agreed that serving the needs of disadvantaged people in urban areas is also essential because people in urban areas “are just as unserved as people in rural areas.”
Dr. Elena Rios, president and chief executive officer of the National Hispanic Medical Association, stressed the importance of tailoring telemedicine programs and education to the targeted populations.
“It’s about health literacy,” Rios said. “[It’s about] talking in the way that responds to the needs of the American people.”
Laura Berrocal, chair of the nonprofit initiative Innovation Generation, moderated the panel.
Tiffany K. Bain is a 2011 public relations graduate of Florida A&M University. She currently serves as the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council’s Research Associate. She got her start in the industry in 2007 as an Emma L. Bowen Foundation intern at the nation’s leading cable provider.