Rural communities depend on broadband to realize benefits of telemedicine; bridging the urban-rural divide.

Craig Settles writes in the Daily Yonder of the promises of telemedicine, technology that can quickly bring medical expertise to rural communities. 

Telemedicine, until recently, was simple to comprehend. In 2015 Andrew Graley, formerly director of healthcare, government and education for vender Polycom Solutions, defined it as “the remote monitoring of patient health data wherever they might be. Predominantly the patient is in their home, elderly, and suffering from a long-term condition or chronic disease.”

Today, it’s much more than that. Through telemedicine, healthcare providers can use intranet or internet networks to diagnose, administer, initiate, assist, monitor, intervene, or report a medical procedure. And the services can include mental and physical rehabilitation.

Telemedicine touches every medical discipline, including psychiatry. Just about every person from newborns to seniors may have telemedicine influence their lives at some time.

But for the promise to be realized,

Broadband may still determine whether rural residents are telemedicine’s “haves” or “have nots.”

It’s another example of how technology can bridge the urban-rural divide. Washington continues to score top marks for data innovation. And, as we wrote earlier, a new Microsoft-led initiative seeks to close the remaining gap. 

Rural economies also depend on technology. And Microsoft has recently unveiled a strategy for expanding broadband to underserved rural communities. Earlier this month, Microsoft president Brad Smith presented the company’s thoughts on the broadband gap

Broadband connectivity is no longer simply a luxury for streaming YouTube videos on a tablet (as enjoyable as that may be). It has become a critical connection to a better education and living. New cloud services are making broadband a necessity to start and grow a small business and take advantage of advances in agriculture, telemedicine and education. In short, broadband has become a vital part of 21st century infrastructure.

Yet today 34 million Americans still lack broadband internet access, which is defined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as a 25 Mbps connection. Of these, 23.4 million live in rural parts of our country. People who live in these rural communities increasingly are unable to take advantage of the economic and educational opportunities enjoyed by their urban neighbors…

As a country, we should not settle for an outcome that leaves behind more than 23 million of our rural neighbors. To the contrary, we can and should bring the benefits of broadband coverage to every corner of the nation.