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The Rise — And Challenges — Of Telehealth During Pandemic

Washington, April 8, 2020
Tags: Broadband

The Rise -- And Challenges -- Of Telehealth During Pandemic
Spectrum News 
Published on April 8, 2020

The coronavirus has placed a new spotlight on telehealth.

  • Telehealth being used more during pandemic
  • Federal government pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into expanding it
  • Ohioans without access to broadband face hurdles in using it

With a growing number of hospitals and doctors overwhelmed by the pandemic right now, you’re not alone in worrying about traveling to see a health care professional if you’re feeling under the weather or are due for that annual check-up.

That’s where telehealth enters the conversation.

Governor Mike DeWine recently signed an executive order that relaxes regulations for Medicaid recipients in Ohio to go to the doctor over video.

“It’s this shift, essentially, from Blockbuster Video to Netflix,” said Brendan Carr, a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission. “Right? So, no longer do you have to go to a physical brick and mortar facility to receive care. Sometimes you do, sometimes you need that type of care. But other times you can get it right on your smartphone.”

Carr and his fellow commissioners at the FCC regulate the very technology that telehealth relies on.

In an interview earlier this week, he said the coronavirus relief package Congress recently passed gives the FCC $200 million more dollars to expand telehealth immediately.

Health care providers can now apply for some of the money to set up internet connections for patients or purchase digital equipment that can measure blood oxygen levels or let diabetes patients monitor their blood glucose from an iPad.

“There’s a lot of technologies now that can be delivered right to your smartphone,” Carr said. “The key is having that connection.”

That connection, for many devices, is an internet connection — something over 800,000 Ohioans don’t have, especially in rural parts of the state like Representative Bill Johnson’s eastern Ohio district.

“This has really highlighted just how critically important access to broadband is,” Johnson (R, 6th Congressional District) said in a recent interview over Skype.

Carr said, because of the coronavirus, the government is now loosening regulations to allow internet companies to donate free hotspots and other connected devices to people who don’t have access to broadband — all in hopes that more people will try out telehealth.

But even if that helps, there’s still a learning curve to all of this, especially for senior citizens.

Northwest Ohio Rep. Bob Latta (R, 5th Congressional District) is the top Republican on a House subcommittee that works specifically on communications and technology.

In an interview earlier this week, he said family and friends should try to help out anyone who is new to telehealth. But he also acknowledged that this is a fast-moving trend that needs more rules set in place to make it effective, even after the coronavirus pandemic.

“The technology’s progressing, but we’ve just got to make sure that we have the right legislation and then the right regulations, to make sure that they can go out there and then provide, in this case, a lifesaving service,” Latta said.

You can call your doctor or health care provider to find out if you have easy access to telehealth.

And there are certain programs, like mental health counseling, that can be done over the phone if you don’t have access to video.

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