The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly exposed technology as the predominant barrier to equitable and accessible care. Solving the complexities of the social determinants of health has always been daunting as each presents its own unique barrier to care. Primary care has long been the linchpin, holding access to health care together in rural communities. As providers nationwide responded to new challenges of the pandemic, telehealth quickly emerged as a viable means to protect both patients and providers. Without access to technology, the ramifications began to show negative ripple effects well beyond COVID-19’s initial devastation.

Throughout the COVID-19 public health emergency, protecting our vulnerable elderly via social distancing has been central to minimizing unnecessary risks and loss of life. Virtual access to primary care has been a lifeline for more than 67 million Medicare beneficiaries yet the cracks in the system were quickly exposed. Overwhelming numbers of patients and health care communities are located outside of metro areas that lack access to broadband. For many health systems already struggling to keep their doors open were served an additional obstacle – how were they going to serve patients with virtual care without broadband?

Providers and health systems worked to develop and implement creative ways to reach their patients and, in some communities, established hot spots for patients to connect from the safety of their cars or found other ways to reach patients virtually.
Traditional in-person care is not going away; however, the time is now to learn how to stay connected with patients in order to manage chronic disease and properly plan for safe and effective vaccination protocols. The looming crisis of lack of broadband cannot be ignored. Hospitals, community health centers, and public service departments must collaborate with local governments and telecommunications companies to shed light on this vulnerability which has elevated technology as a key to their community’s future viability.
Read the full article in Managed Healthcare Executive.

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