With limited broadband access in some areas of rural Central Pennsylvania, health care providers are looking for ways to get around the issue and provide telemedicine to all patients.
At Geisinger, David Fletcher, associate vice-president of telemedicine, said none of the areas served by the system's medical providers are particularly troublesome when it comes to Internet connection.
"We try to adapt to the environment we're serving," he said. "For example, the Geisinger at Home nurses and team members frequently take MiFi (portable broadband devices that create a mobile hotspot) into the patients' home to increase their chances of having connectivity if they need to bring in another clinician over telemedicine. We're committed to providing access to care throughout our entire service area."
On a recent medical visit, community health assistant Keri Harne had a bit of difficulty connecting with Pittston-based Dr. Anthony Wylie from the Paxinos home of Glenn Henninger.
It took a few minutes, but Harne, using a backup device, was able to get Wylie on the computer screen and interacting with Henninger during a lengthy visit in which the patient and provider easily bantered back and forth.
Agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and the Federal Communication Commission have been touting the importance of improving broadband service, particularly in rural areas where telemedicine is not being used as predominately as urban areas because of internet connection difficulty.
On its website, the FCC described computer-connected services as helping to save lives and lower costs for patients and providers.
"These connected care services can lead to better health outcomes and significant cost savings for patients and health care providers alike," it said.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the agency has to do more to address the issue.
"While the benefits of digital health care are clear, we've been too slow to embrace its potential," he said.
"Technologies that are available right now can dramatically improve the quality of health care for millions of Americans. Getting everybody connected and promoting the adoption of current tools by both doctors and patients would be a game-changer," said Pai.