The Federal Communications Commission’s Connect2Health Task Force announced updates to its Mapping Broadband Health in America platform. The 2017 platform now reflects the latest complete annual fixed broadband dataset from the Commission and updated health data from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings.
As telehealth, telemedicine, and other cutting-edge mHealth initiatives gain momentum across the country, this web-based mapping platform enables more efficient, data-driven decision making at the intersection of broadband and health, according to the FCC.
The FCC’s Connect2Health Task Force launched the web-based mapping tool last August, and the tool visualizes and overlays broadband and health data to enable further study of the connection of health outcomes and broadband availability.
The data-driven tool, which is available online at https://www.fcc.gov/health/maps, was designed to enable data-driven decision making on broadband health policies and connected health solutions and to help the public and private sector, and local communities, identify opportunities and gaps in connectivity and care, according to FCC officials.
Some of the key findings from the latest data update include:
- The number of people living in “double burden” counties has increased. Almost half of U.S. counties have high burdens of chronic disease (e.g., diabetes) as well as a need for greater broadband connectivity. That translates to over 36 million people who live in counties with a “double burden” of need—an increase of 1 million between 2014 and 2015.
- Over 60 percent of rural Americans live in “double burden” counties, while less than 5 percent of urban America falls into the same category. The rural/urban gap holds true even if the benchmarks are set at 80 percent, 70 percent, or 60 percent broadband access.
- There are 214 counties―175 of which are majority rural – that have broadband access below 50 percent and diabetes and obesity rates above the national average. These digitally-isolated counties are home to nearly 7 million people.
- Preventable hospitalizations (i.e., hospital stays that could have been avoided with appropriate care) are 150 percent higher in the least connected counties compared to other counties.
According to the FCC’s Connect2Health, understanding the data is the first step in better leveraging broadband to help manage chronic health conditions for seniors in Giles County, Tennessee, access lifesaving specialty care in Harlan County, Kentucky, reduce post-surgical pain through Virtual Reality applications in Barbour County, West Virginia, or connect a veteran to virtual rehab in Warren County, Pennsylvania. “The data update reinforces many of last year’s key findings, including sizeable and persistent rural/urban gaps. Notably, counties that need broadband for health the most, tend to have it the least. Forty-two percent of rural “critical need” counties, representing over 2 million people, had worsening broadband and health metrics,” FCC officials said.
“We recognize that the upturn in closures of rural hospitals and medical facilities, highlighted in recent research at the University of North Carolina, is of great concern to many,” Michele Ellison, chair of the Connect2HealthFCC Task Force, said in a statement. “The mapping platform shines a critical spotlight on the need for broadband health solutions in rural and digitally-isolated counties where physician shortages are more than double the national average. It also demonstrates the importance of initiatives to promote broadband infrastructure deployment.”
Along with the data update, the Task Force has released new priority lists of “critical need” counties in broadband and health—the Priority 2017 and Rural Priority 2017. The Task Force also introduced a new analytical product―the Positive Trend Counties inventory—that compares broadband and health data year on year (e.g., comparing broadband data from December 2014 to December 2015). This new inventory identifies priority counties that the data shows have made progress on broadband and/or health measures to a greater or lesser extent, no longer meeting the thresholds as “critical need” counties in broadband and health.