Why is Broadband Connectivity Important to Healthcare in Our Community?

  • Published 2021-07-30

“The current healthcare landscape lends itself to major changes, including elevating the prominence of telemedicine. Recent technological advances and external pressures have driven telemedicine to the forefront of medical reality” (Telemedicine: Current Impact on the Future, 2020). Telemedicine opens up opportunities that improve patient access to quality healthcare, the latest technologies, and medical specialists by eliminating challenges caused by distance and logistics. Telehealth refers to “the use of telecommunications and information technology (IT) to provide access to health assessment, diagnosis, intervention, consultation, supervision and information across distance” (Telemedicine, the Current COVID-19 Pandemic and the Future: A Narrative Review and Perspectives Moving Forward in the USA, 2020). “The advantages of telemedicine moving forward include its cost-effectiveness, ability to extend access to specialty services and its potential to help mitigate the looming physician shortage.”

To take advantage of all that telehealth has to offer, medical facilities and patients need to have a reliable, stable, fast internet connection. Connectivity has to be available across the board. Holland’s Broadband Taskforce interviewed leaders in the medical and long-term care industries to understand the current limitations and future possibilities of telehealth in our community. When it comes to telehealth and video health, “the expectation is that everyone’s home is set up to connect to healthcare providers,” said David Knibbe, President and CEO of Evergreen Commons. Through COVID-19, limitations of telehealth in our community came to light. “It takes the right amount of bandwidth. The assumption is that the infrastructure is in place but we find that clients don’t have access, or the device, or the ability to make it work.”

The use of telemedicine is growing quickly and helping the healthcare industry provide better and more efficient services. Insurance companies and providers are pushing for growth in telemedicine. Paul Clippinger, Executive Director, Physician Hospital Organization (PHO) at Holland Hospital, said that “because of telemedicine, providers need to rethink who their market is. You can be set up to care for patients all over the country.” Which means patients have access to providers without geographical limitations. Telehealth makes opportunities for patients to seek specialists in other regions much more accessible. This also implies that communities with capabilities for sTelehealth telehealth have logistic benefits that apply locally. Telehealth appointments expand options for those with fragile immune systems and for people who face challenges getting to office appointments.

Network reliability is an essential factor in telemedicine. Diagnostic work and critical health monitoring may now be done remotely. Remote patient monitoring “allows patients to send their real-time physiologic data to their physicians to streamline the monitoring of the patient’s condition” (Telemedicine: Current Impact on the Future, 2020). However, current broadband access might not be adequate to support remote patient monitoring. Reliability is absolutely needed for remote critical health monitoring. The network needs to be operating well and must not disrupt critical communications. “If a patient had sky-high blood pressure and needed an intervention, if service isn’t available, there would be a problem,” explained Pam Curtis, Chief Executive Officer, Senior Resources of West Michigan.

Video consultations, medical monitoring devices, and access to patient records all rely on a strong network connection. Broadband fiber optics are a key component to uninterrupted exchange of data since it provides higher bandwidth, lower latency and reliability over legacy network systems. Holland BPW’s fiber broadband services have a proven reputation for reliability. “We strive to maintain a 100% uptime on our networks. To date, the only outages our Shared Gigabit customers have experienced are due to scheduled maintenance,” explained Pete Hoffswell, Superintendent of Broadband Services.

Yaa Kumah-Crystal, MD, MPH, MS, is an Assistant Professor of Biomedical Informatics and Pediatric Endocrinology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC). At a keynote event, Dr. Kumah-Crystal shared examples of how telemedicine impacts her job as a pediatrician. In one example, she consulted with a patient’s mom over the phone about her daughter’s blood sugar levels. The mom had been tracking it using a monitor and had the data to share with Dr. Kumah-Crystal on the spot. A good network allowed the patient’s data to be delivered to the doctor in real-time, allowing the Dr. Kumah-Crystal to make immediate treatment adjustments. Telemedicine can remove disconnects in doctor-patient communication, in many cases making it possible for doctors to evaluate data and recommend treatment all in the same appointment.

Dr. Kumah-Crystal described the process of video consultation. Imagine being sick and stressed about your health and having to wait days (or weeks) to speak to a doctor. Telemedicine brings quick access to the resources you need. Telemedicine also brings medicine to you, instead of you having to go to the doctor for help. Finally, imagine sitting down to talk with your doctor via video conference only to have your internet fail on you. We have all had video conferences fail for us. It is doubly stressful to have such an important meeting with your doctor disrupted by poor broadband internet service. Modern fiber-based broadband service minimizes these problems and prepares a community for the future as well.

Holland’s Broadband Taskforce focuses on how to expand access to fiber broadband in our community. Community-owned broadband is an opportunity to build a fiber network as infrastructure. The efficiencies of infrastructure ensure that affordable access is available for all as costs can be spread out over a long period of time. Such a network would benefit the healthcare industry in our community. A reliable fiber-to-the-home (FFTH) network would open up opportunities for expansions in telehealth. Holland could have enough bandwidth and reliable access for video appointments, remote patient monitoring, and advances in record management. The availability of a high-speed FFTH network for every address in Holland would pave the future of our community’s healthcare system.