Report examines how broadband and telehealth expansion can lead to cost savings

Published: Oct. 4, 2023 at 9:06 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - We all know Mississippi being a rural state brings about its own challenges. Healthcare deserts are one worsening problem.

The gap in services is only made worse by geography. But one new study suggests the solution may be right at our fingertips if broadband is better built out.

”It gives you a much better relationship with your patients because they know that they can, you know, see you more frequently without having to worry about where they’re gonna get gas money or someone’s gonna drive them there and so it eliminates that barrier,” said Coastal Family Health Center CMO Dr. Wendy Williams. “That is pretty profound here in Mississippi.”

Dr. Wendy Williams works at one of the community health centers on the coast. And she’s seen how telehealth opens up opportunities to better manage patient’s conditions.

That’s the basis of the latest study by the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative in partnership with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance Community Broadband Networks Initiative.

“These issues are very real that people are not seeing doctors and diseases are not being managed when you have these broad swaths of the state where you don’t have physicians or you don’t have specialties and these rural areas, very few our specialties,” explained Oleta Garrett Fitzgerald, SRBWI State Lead for Mississippi and the Children’s Defense Fund Southern Director. “So, if you’re really sick, you need to be able to have access to reliable internet services so that the doctors there can connect the patients to the specialties that they need.”

Mississippi isn’t isolated in the study. Alabama and Georgia counties were also examined. All ten counties in total face similar health concerns.

“When you live in a rural area, and you’re 30 Miles, you know, 60 miles, 100 miles away from some a provider, and you do not have transportation to get there being able to be able to see via telehealth on your, on your telephone, your smartphone, your iPad, or whatever... this just is, it’s just a dire need for that access,” noted JSU Telehealth Researcher Erin Shirley-Orey.

The three states are also where millions in federal broadband dollars are available.

The study suggests that by investing in broadband build-out, counties can save money through telehealth. Because it would cut down on ER visits, hospital readmissions, and people being out of work.

The Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative says it has been working closely with the state’s broadband office to ensure that build-out takes place in the areas most in need of this type of access.

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