Broadband is health policy by another name

Broadband is health policy by another name

As a cardiologist licensed in Maine and New Hampshire, I am thrilled by the opportunities that health technologies are bringing to the home. These systems depend on a combination of diverse expertise and rapid data transmission. If that mixture is available, then modern innovations have the potential to revitalize American health care.

Internal medicine physician Lisa Ravindra conducts a remote monitoring telehealth visit with patient Jenny Thomas, top of screen, in October 2020 at Rush River North Clinic in Chicago. In Maine, we cannot guarantee routine access to modern, tech-enabled care. Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS

Stuck behind a logging truck on 113, I was nagged by this question: Can we guarantee that Maine’s residents have routine access to modern, tech-enabled care? The truth is, right now, we can’t. Maine’s infrastructure is underequipped to support this transition.

Several years ago, I started a local innovation group where I enjoyed a front-row seat to the ingenuity of my colleagues caring for people across our region. One member of our group, Michael, was incensed that your risk of complications at birth is predicted by your mother’s ZIP code. He built a tool to train rural birthing teams virtually, increasing expertise without raising costs. Heidi developed a software tool to track staffing in family birthing centers. Her tool works on problems that contribute to the United States having the worst maternal health outcomes in the developed world. Meghan developed an online platform to connect people with rare diseases living in rural areas who had never met other people dealing with the same problem. These projects change lives, but they shared a common reality: They will not affect health outcomes in Maine without reliable internet access. Our thinkers are developing groundbreaking ideas and cultivating new technologies within Maine’s borders, only to have them shipped away to other, more connected states.

Today, I work at a major tech company in full view of future technologies with the potential to revolutionize individual and public health outcomes. Broadband is enabling the greatest leap in health services that I will see in my lifetime. Connectivity has a direct impact on the most important predictors of your long-term health. In the health care community, it is a well-known “secret” that your doctors or health systems have little to do with it. Your well-being is most clearly related to your social-support network and your income, each of which is supported by connectivity. Technology will never equal real life, but it will support life at every stage.

For example, there is no substitute for Main Street, but applicants find jobs there through the internet. Veterans need in-person care, but their health benefits are delivered online. Young people need a roof over their heads, but they only buy homes that have broadband. You are essentially ineligible for remote-work jobs without broadband. Broadband is a cornerstone of any plan for a community’s health and economy. Maine lags the US national average and the rest of New England for rapid access to the internet.

We sit at a crossroad in Maine’s broadband development. Legislation at the federal and state level has unlocked enormous resources but only for communities prepared to execute a plan. Organizations like ConnectME and the Maine Connectivity Authority stand ready to deliver funds to prepared towns and counties.

A failure to organize and invest in broadband now will disadvantage Maine’s residents as they seek to build healthy, prosperous lives. As a physician, I need broadband to deliver on my oath. As a citizen, I need broadband to engage with my community. Only through community action can we build a backbone that will connect every person to their promise and every place to its potential.

When you are done reading this, call your town hall and ask, ‘Who is working to get good broadband access into my home?’ If the person who answers does not know, reach out to [email protected] or go to mainebroadbandcoalition.org to access their library of helpful resources. If no one is working on this topic in your area, please consider starting a broadband committee. Join the network of people working hand in hand to pull Maine into its future.


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