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Lack of internet access limits telemedicine usage in rural Indiana_copy

Published Monday, December 9, 2019
by Jackie Drees

While the adoption of telemedicine is growing within healthcare, use of the technology in rural parts of Indiana is limited due to a lack of high-speed internet access, according to a Dec. 3 GovTech report.

Since the 2008 implementation of the Indiana Telehealth Network, which was supported by a $16 million grant from the Federal Communications Commission, telemedicine has increased throughout the state. Indianapolis-based Community Health Network began offering telemedicine services to patients in 2017; since then, the number of patients using the virtual care services has increased from around 30 visits a month to about 70, according to the report.

"Telemedicine is expanding massively, but when you talk about getting it all the way out to people's homes, that's the last piece of it," said Allison Orwig, project coordinator for the Indiana Telehealth Network, according to the report. "It's expanding to clinics and schools and jails pretty darn quick. But that last-mile connection into people's physical homes is still a ways off."

Various rural areas in Indiana lack fast-enough internet speeds to support telemedicine consultations with providers, Ms. Orwig said. She estimated that around 75 percent of rural providers need faster internet speeds to fully leverage telemedicine services and treat patients.

About 25 percent of ITN participants said they have adequate internet speeds to support telemedicine services, according to Ms. Orwig. While the FCC grant funded more than 260 miles of fiber-optic cable to provide high speed internet to some remote hospitals in Indiana, "there are still tons of spots around the state where internet access is not adequate or reliable at all," Ms. Orwig said.

Indiana state officials have moved to address high-speed internet shortages with Gov. Eric Holcomb's Next Level Connections infrastructure program, which aims to invest $1 billion to expand broadband services in rural areas of the state as well as other initiatives.