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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Pittsburgh: Analysis Finds Poor Broadband Penetration in Rural Communities May Limit the Potential of Telemedicine

Broadband penetration rates are substantially lower in many rural counties where access to primary care physicians and psychiatrists is inadequate, which limits the potential of telemedicine to mitigate barriers to care. Findings from a brief research report led by Dr. Coleman Drake, assistant professor in the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health‘s Department of Health Policy and Management, are published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Telemedicine has been proposed as a way to improve access to care in areas where physicians are in short supply, but it can only work if doctors and patients can access the Internet.

Along with researchers from  the University of Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Drake’s team used IQVIA’s OneKey healthcare provider database and Google Maps to determine whether counties had adequate driving time-based access to primary care physicians and psychiatrists, and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) data to measure whether counties had sufficient broadband internet access. The researchers found that broadband penetration rates decreased as counties became more rural, and counties with inadequate access to primary care physicians and/or psychiatrists generally had poorer broadband penetration rates. For example, the broadband penetration rate in the most rural counties was 62.4 percent if primary care physician access was adequate, compared with 38.6 percent if it was inadequate. This relationship between access and broadband penetration was similar for psychiatrists. The authors suggest that telemedicine cannot address geographic barriers to care until telecommunications infrastructure is improved.

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