Until COVID-19 swept the country, telehealth was a convenience—you knew it was there if you needed it. Fast forward to the last week of March 2020, and telehealth numbers rose by 154%. Suddenly, seeing a doctor via video chat was not only a convenience but a necessity that millions of people needed to take advantage of for a multitude of reasons.
Virtual medical visits are open to everyone; however, for rural areas, internet accessibility and bandwidth speeds vary greatly, leaving some residents with only a choice of calling their doctors or visiting them in person. Though this issue came to light during the pandemic, even when the threat of COVID-19 is over, online medical care and resources should be readily accessible to anyone who wants to take advantage.
In this article, we discuss a few of the reasons that accessibility to telehealth is so crucial and how Project UNITE is working continuously to develop the broadband infrastructure in rural Middle Tennessee to help meet that need.
Telehealth is a growing trend and will be prevalent long after the pandemic ends. Non-pandemic needs for telehealth access include weather emergencies, patients without transportation, or patients who aren’t mobile enough to leave their home. Visiting your doctor online and receiving the care you need without leaving your home is paramount for ensuring that everyone has access to healthcare, even when they aren’t able to physically visit a facility.
Reducing the Spread of Disease
The pandemic has made us more aware of the limited risks that may come with visiting a healthcare facility, being in proximity to persons who could be spreading other infections like the flu. As an alternative, online access to telehealth could potentially prevent an unnecessary spread of disease and infection, which is especially relevant for our most vulnerable populations.
Preserving Healthcare Resources
As healthcare facilities have fewer patients, more resources and attention are available to address greater emergencies. The shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) at the beginning of the pandemic is just one example of the strain that overly populated facilities can have on healthcare providers. And with better internet access and telehealth availability, more people can receive advice or a diagnosis without having to visit an emergency room, freeing up beds, equipment, and staff for more critical issues.
Project UNITE’s Mission and Impact
Telehealth continues to advance for the modern-day patient. However, there are many rural homes that lack the level of access needed to take advantage of medical websites, resources, and chat or video communication with healthcare professionals.
Through Project UNITE, United Communications is working to change that by leveraging federal and state funding, United’s own investment, and community partnerships to strengthen the broadband infrastructure in our rural communities. With a goal to connect Middle Tennessee, Project UNITE is helping advance our high-speed internet network.