Fixed Wireless Internet Can Close the Gap for Telehealth, Especially in Rural Areas

Telehealth service providers in the United States have experienced a substantial increase in demand for the remote healthcare services they provide. This is largely due to many people being reluctant to make physical visits to their doctor’s office during the pandemic.

A recent survey found that almost 1 in 4 people accessed some form of telehealth between April and October of 2021. In areas that were severely affected by the pandemic, the same study found that the use of telehealth services increased from 1% to almost 80% of the respondents.

In addition, 90% of patients making use of telehealth report being satisfied with the levels of care they received with 80% of patients stating that they would make use of telehealth services again in the future.

This points to a dramatic uptick in the popularity of telehealth in the United States.

What is Telehealth?

Telehealth is defined as the facilitation of remote access to healthcare services using digital information and communication technologies. Telehealth makes use of computers, mobile devices, and voice/data connectivity to allow patients to manage their health care remotely.

A service of this nature relies on a quality broadband connection to function correctly. Patients who do not have access to reliable, fast connectivity lose much of the benefits telehealth is able to provide.

This is especially true in rural areas.

Unfortunately, many people living in rural areas in the United States have limited access to broadband connectivity. A survey by the PEW Research group stated that 58% of rural Americans believe that broadband access is problematic in the area they live in.

In addition, adults in rural areas have access to fewer healthcare providers, are less likely to be tested for chronic illnesses, and often pay more for the healthcare they have access to. 

Telehealth could provide increased levels of patient care to rural communities if the broadband access required is readily available, fast, and reliable.

What is Fixed Wireless Access?

Fixed wireless is internet and data connectivity that is delivered using radio signals to a fixed receiver. This type of connection relies on having a line of sight to the nearest transmission tower. 

All that is usually required is for the consumer to have a receiver that can access the nearest cell tower. 

Connections of this nature require limited equipment. Consumers of Fixed Wireless Broadband are also not required to wait for expensive and time-consuming cabling infrastructure to be implemented in their area. 

Fixed Wireless can deliver high-speed broadband connectivity to rural areas without the need for any additional expensive equipment or cabling. 

As a result, fixed wireless networking services are poised to accelerate the growth telehealth is currently experiencing.

Why is Fixed Wireless so Important for Telehealth in Rural Areas?

Rural communities in the United States experience disproportionately low levels of access to high-speed broadband internet access. 

The FCC defines a broadband internet connection as one having at least a 25mb/s download and 3mb/s upload speed. Unfortunately, this threshold has not been revised for several years and falls short of what would be considered a fast connection in an urban area.

With limited access to inferior connectivity, people living in rural areas of the United States were not able to make use of telehealth services even though they were aware of them being available. A survey by the Bipartisan Policy Centre found that 35% of the respondents who accessed telehealth reported technical issues that prejudiced their outcomes.

A lack of capacity in rural broadband networks is a severe constraint for telehealth service providers and consumers. 

Not having fast and reliable data connections means that patients who wish to manage more of their healthcare remotely may be forced to continue with in-person consultations even though online alternatives are available and preferable.

Limiting the exposure risk for vulnerable populations during Covid has been fundamental to the national strategy of both state and local governments in the US. 

Residents of rural areas who are seeking medical care have no alternative to in-person consultations if there are no telehealth services available due to poor internet connectivity. They also have limited access to the online systems and portals that complement healthcare in more developed urban environments.

If telehealth service providers wish to expand their coverage outside urban areas, they require their rural patients to have access to a fast, reliable data connection. 

Fixed wireless networking is a cost-effective and practical alternative to rolling out an expensive wired network infrastructure to facilitate this.

Closing the Gap

The need for remote services has increased exponentially over the last few years. This has been driven by the pandemic and the changes people have made to their behaviors resulting from it.

People seeking medical care are no longer required to make use of in-person services to manage their health. 

Telehealth service providers can provide video consultations, remote monitoring, physician collaboration, and remote imaging if there is appropriate broadband coverage to facilitate this.

The gap in internet coverage that exists between rural and urban communities in the US is a constraint on the growth of telehealth. It needs to be addressed if telehealth is to enjoy the same popularity it has in the urban parts of the United States.

Fixed wireless networking is a solution to the problem of rolling out high-speed broadband connectivity to areas that are not currently being serviced effectively. 

The provision of easy-to-use, comparatively lower-cost fixed wireless networking in rural areas will lead to the expansion of telehealth into these communities. This can be achieved if consumers have the access they need to fixed wireless networking in rural areas.

Government legislation has recently begun to prioritize this with a $65 billion investment in rural broadband. Its stated aim is to “deliver reliable, affordable, high-speed internet to every household.”

This is in addition to the $1 billion committed by the 2021 American Rescue Plan that supports the growth of telehealth in the US.

This increase in funding, coupled with the growth in popularity of telehealth means the sector is poised to continue the growth already being experienced.

PCS Technologies has been dedicated to delivering fast, stable, and secure fixed wireless broadband and private LTE/5G solutions for over 20 years, building and deploying networks for public and private organizations across the United States.

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