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Broadband access within Medically Underserved Areas and its implication for telehealth utilization

HumanInsight Broadband access within Medically Underserved Areas and its implication for telehealth utilization

J Rural Health. 2023 Jan 4. doi: 10.1111/jrh.12738. Online ahead of print.


PURPOSE: There is little information as to how America's broadband infrastructure might impact recent efforts to expand access to virtual care for underserved communities.

OBJECTIVE: To examine potential and realized access to broadband internet services within Medically Underserved Areas (MUAs) that rely on community health care service providers for primary care.

METHODS: This cross-sectional study included 214,946 US Census Block Group estimates from the 2017 and 2019 American Community Survey and the corresponding Federal Communications Commission database. Changes in household broadband subscription rates and Healthy People 2020 access thresholds within MUAs were assessed.

FINDINGS: In 2019, 24,304 MUA households (31.9%) met Healthy People 2020 targets for broadband subscription rates, compared to 64.4% of non-MUA households (n = 89,285). On average, 74.7% of MUA households had a broadband internet subscription compared to 85.2% of non-MUA households, whereas 61.1% (n = 46,635) of MUA households had access to broadband speeds of at least 25.0 Mbps, compared to 75.6% (n = 104,696) of non-MUA households. Within urban households, there was a 0.8 to 1.3 to 1.6 annual percentage point convergence in MUA versus non-MUA broadband disparities between across quintiles (P < .05). Rural MUA households showed little improvement in broadband access between 2017 and 2019.

CONCLUSIONS: There has been an overall convergence of broadband access disparities between MUA and non-MUA households over time, but less improvements in access among the most rural households. Reimbursement for audio-only telehealth visits by state Medicaid agencies would help drive down barriers to virtual health care options for populations residing in MUAs.

PMID:36599620 | DOI:10.1111/jrh.12738

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