At the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference last week in Washington, DC, Honorary Host and U.S. House of Representatives Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn (D-SC) hosted an issue forum aimed at educating the public about the importance and benefits of telehealth for African-American and other minority communities.
During the “Empowering African American Communities to Improve their Health with Broadband Technology” issue forum, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, American Telemedicine Association board member Dr. Reed Tuckson, South Carolina tele-stroke practitioner Dr. Robert J. Adams, and representatives from Verizon, Comcast, and the Joint Center for Political and Economic studies shared various perspectives about the benefits of telehealth.
“You can’t solve today’s problems with yesterday’s tools” was a phrase repeatedly expressed by Dr. Tuckson, an American Telemedicine Association Board Member and Tuckson Health Connections Managing Director.
Dr. Tuckson, who delivered the forum’s keynote address, emphasized that the nation needs innovation that produces value to meet current challenges.
In her opening statements, Chairwoman Clyburn highlighted several of the old problems that persist in our society, including the fact that communities of color, particularly African-Americans and Latinos, remain disproportionately affected by disparities in healthcare quality and access.
She also mentioned that new technology won’t exclusively reduce the healthcare disparities these communities face. Bret Perkins, Comcast’s External and Government Affairs Vice President, and Emilio Gonzalez, Verizon’s Public Policy and Strategic Alliance Executive Director, echoed the chairwoman’s remarks.
According to Chairwoman Clyburn, reducing healthcare disparities should also include reducing the disparities in broadband technology adoption. She also shared that the FCC’s top priority concerning telehealth is connectivity.
Chairwoman Clyburn said that while communities of color, especially African-Americans, continue to trail whites in home broadband adoption even after the adoption disparities between whites and blacks with decreased by 50 percent since 2009, her focus has been on modernizing the Lifeline program to include increased connectivity of wired broadband for eligible participants.
In addition to home broadband, Chairwoman Clyburn also mentioned the FCC’s initiative to ensure that the nation’s healthcare facilities have access to high-speed broadband to administer telehealth services to patients.
Through the FCC’s newly implemented Healthcare Connect Fund, healthcare facilities can connect to high-speed broadband for a 65 percent discount for “on broadband services, equipment, connections to research and education networks.” However, since launching in December 2012, the program has only spent a quarter of its $400 million budget.
One of the main attractions at the issue forum was the live tele-stroke consultation conducted by REACH MUSC Tele-stroke Network Director Dr. Robert J. Adams. Using the high-speed wireless broadband at the forum’s location, Dr. Adams was able to connect within minutes to the regional hospital in Kingstree, S.C. – 454 miles, or almost 7 hours away – to conduct the live consultation.
This healthcare delivery option is especially beneficial for African-American communities, as stroke is one of the leading causes of death for African-Americans. Adams said REACH, an acronym for Remote Evaluation of Acute isCHemic stroke, puts the best stroke specialty care in a local emergency room in reach in 10 minutes.
While innovations in tele-stroke and other telehealth specialties are available, the issue forum’s moderator, Dr. Nicol Turner-Lee, MMTC Vice President, Chief Researcher, and Policy Officer, reminded that the “ubiquity of broadband access” is essential to ensuring that these innovations are developed and used.
Gonzalez supported Dr. Turner-Lee’s statement and added that innovation requires investment, which was a point Chairwoman Clyburn raised earlier in the forum where she discussed the FCC’s other main priority: increased spectrum distribution and utilization.
Additionally, Dr. Adams and Joseph Miller, Deputy Director and Senior Policy Counsel for the Joint Center for Economic Studies’ Media and Technology Institute, debated whether telehealth privacy and security issues were a major concern. However, Miller mentioned that two components integral to the expansion and increased usage of telehealth included potential consumers’ trust in the telehealth ecosystem and health professionals’ trust that the ecosystem can survive.
Congressman Clyburn concluded the session declaring that broadband would be rural America’s salvation and that he hopes that next year’s session would include reports on the progress and improvements.
- 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.