What happens when a prime time TV show becomes a potential healthcare policy direction, plus a side helping of broadband adoption strategy? An episode of the NBC TV medical melodrama New Amsterdam inspired a five-city telehealth pilot project involving barbershops and hair salons. The show’s medical director had a brilliant idea to enlist barbershops in African-American neighborhoods to screen customers for hypertension (high blood pressure), which leads to an overwhelming majority of the 140,000 stroke-related deaths a year.
Currently there are 14 million people living in urban communities in the U.S. who cannot access telehealth service, yet the Federal Communications Commission and USDA will spend $5 billion this year to get telehealth and broadband to 4 million rural households.
And just like that, telehealth is a technology superstar. Recognition of telehealth’s potential to transform healthcare is one of the few silver linings in the COVID-19 cloud. But COVID-19 also ripped open a gaping wound within our healthcare system – a deadly inequity for African-American and other people of color. “Systemic racism and bad policy over the years created situations where African-Americans and other people of color are more susceptible to hypertension, diabetes, and the like,” said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenny on CNN.
In urban neighborhoods, where Internet service and health care can be hard to access, a novel pilot project uses local barbershops and salons as wireless hubs and hypertension screening centers.
There’s a health-care crisis in the country and it’s hitting rural areas particularly hard. The US could face a shortage of 95,000 physicians by 2025, according to a recent report from the Association of American Medical Colleges. But health care’s physician distribution problem, with too many doctors in urban areas and not enough in rural locations, could be alleviated by community broadband.
Even though community broadband has proven itself incredibly valuable and viable, broadband is taking a beating in some areas of the country thanks to what has become a siege against municipal broadband by the large telecommunication incumbents, including AT&T, Comcast, and others.
Everyone who’s concerned about community broadband needs to contact your economic development agency, department, whoever spearheads your community’s economic development. I’m surveying these professionals about broadband’s impact on local economies. Community broadband is advancing in many places nationwide. But it’s also taking a beating in some areas. The only way we can fight back, capture opportunities, and win challenges is to start with reliable data from those in the trenches. This is insanely important!!
When communities design broadband infrastructure to facilitate healthcare and telehealth delivery, they obviously plan to connect medical practitioners’ hospitals, offices, and other healthcare facilities. Network connections to homes are growing in importance as government policies and market forces favor telehealth deployments. What about schools and libraries? In many communities, school districts and libraries outperform broadband in people’s homes.
Two years ago I wrote that community broadband builders have two options for network deployment: they could use the problem-solving approach or the creation orientation approach. The problem-solving approach is typical when people deal with the government. The goal is often to make something go away.