Samsung and Centene partnered to provide smartphones to rural US to boost telehealth access
Centene announced a collaboration with tech giant Samsung to supply 13,000 Galaxy smartphones equipped with 90 days of free wireless service to around 200 federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), community support organizations, and providers in rural areas in the US, which will then distribute the phones to patients on a case-by-case basis.
Payers have a vested interest in addressing social determinants of health (SDOH) that breed poor outcomes—by targeting geography, the duo can both improve patient health and move the needle on telehealth adoption.
Socioeconomic factors such as poverty and geography are the primary cause of health disparities between urban and rural communities: There are around 9 times more specialists per 100,000 people in urban areas than in rural communities. Further, the rural poverty rate is higher than the national average—and poverty has been linked to higher prevalence of chronic disease.
And we've seen payers working to improve their members' SDOH: Last year, CVS Health launched a social services platform to address SDOH among high-risk beneficiaries. Introducing tech tools to rural patients can give them the opportunity to better manage their personal health via telemedicine, and improve outcomes, which could thereby fuel further adoption of telehealth.
However, doling out devices is just one element of improving healthcare accessibility—the connectivity divide will still need to be addressed to lay the groundwork for widespread telehealth adoption in the US. Virtual healthcare is especially valuable to rural populations considering it addresses key pain points hampering healthcare access: geographic distance, limited resources, and scarcity of providers. And despite rapid advances in technology in recent years, rural US patients have consistently lower levels of broadband adoption: 37% of rural residents don't have access to broadband, per a 2019 Pew Research survey.
So, while access to mobile technology is an essential component in stoking adoption of telehealth, it'll be important to improve broadband access to close the digital divide and facilitate greater telehealth use. We're starting to see some movement to this end, but it may not go far enough: Last week, the federal government rolled out the Rural Action Plan to support virtual care reimbursement— but we don't think it's doling out enough cash to sustain widespread telehealth initiatives in rural areas.
In order to truly see telehealth settle into all corners of the US, we expect telecom companies will have to cooperate with telehealth vendors and local hospital systems to establish the infrastructure for reliable connections.
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