Today is World Health Day. The World Health Organization’s theme this year, “a fairer, healthier world,” could not be more timely for the United States. President Biden recently released a $2.2 trillion infrastructure plan, which includes a number of initiatives directly or indirectly related to health care, including $100 billion to buildout critical broadband and 5G infrastructure.
The Public Health Emergency (PHE) has demonstrated the expansive potential of digital technology to bridge the gap in providing care to underserved rural and lower-income communities. The dire need for broadband was also identified and addressed in the $900 billion COVID-19 relief package, including $3.2 billion for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program and $250 million for Federal Communication Commission’s telehealth program. Telehealth has become the preferred method of health care delivery.
And while there have been some strides in broadband expansion, challenges remain. The Pew Research Center offers the following data on the lag of access experienced by lower-income families.
Source: Pew Research Center
According to the latest report card on the nation’s infrastructure from the American Society of Civil Engineers, historically “disadvantaged urban and rural communities are typically worse off when it comes to being able to access broadband internet.” ASCE cites a study from the Center for Public Integrity that reports families with household incomes over $80,700 are five times more likely to have access to broadband than those below $34,800.
The full usage data is still light, but preliminary trends suggest that historically underserved communities were able and willing to utilize digital health platforms, despite challenges with broadband access. Network access could be key to solving one of the most pressing health care disparity issues.