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Pitt Study: Rural Counties That Would Most Benefit From Telemedicine Lack Broadband Access

A worker installs fiber-optics in rural Vermont. A new University of Pittsburgh study finds that rural counties that lack primary care physicians are also more likely to not have broadband infrastructure.

Telemedicine has the potential to connect people in rural communities to health care providers who might otherwise take hours to reach by car. But a new University of Pittsburgh study finds that many of these places lack the infrastructure to actually make telemedicine possible.

“These are patients that could really benefit from improved access to health care, that’s good for their health, their enjoyment of life, and also cost savings from the perspective of whoever is paying for the care of these patients,” said lead author Coleman Drake, an assistant professor at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health, where he studies geographic access to health care.

The study found that in rural counties with adequate access to primary care physicians, nearly 62.4 percent of these counties also had access to broadband. However, in rural counties that lacked these heath care providers, only 38.6 percent had broadband access.

Drake said policy makers should consider expanding broadband due to the public health implications.

“Particularly given that rural America is becoming increasingly older, poorer and sicker, relative to their urban counterparts, overtime,” said Drake.

The study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

WESA receives funding from the University of Pittsburgh.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio where she covered a range of issues, including the 2016 Iowa Caucuses.
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