While the concept of telehealth had long been around prior to March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was undoubtedly a catalyst for the widespread adoption of the practice. In fact, adoption for this form of healthcare delivery among Medicare recipients jumped by 10,000% over a six-week period during state lockdown orders, according to a new study. Never before had a broadband connection proven to be more critical in healthcare than when millions of Americans connected online from home during the pandemic to meet with healthcare professionals. Telehealth firms like Cox's Trapollo kept patients and medical staff as safe as possible during the global health crisis and saved in-person appointments and hospital beds for those who were truly in need of urgent care.
As America climbs out of the pandemic and looks to the future of healthcare in this country, it's important to take the lessons learned from the past few years and to find the best ways to advance health and wellness in communities throughout the United States, including for vulnerable populations such as seniors or chronically ill patients. A new whitepaper, ‘Advancing Health and Wellness Via the Smart Home,’ written by William Maguire, founder of Connected Communities LLC, explores how the smart home and partnerships between healthcare providers, state and local governments, technology companies, and cable internet service providers (ISPs) are the keys to further accelerating and improving home-centered health services in the U.S. But first and foremost, it all starts with a strong and fast broadband connection in the home to power the connected devices that are essential to delivering telehealth services.
The paper asserts that five critical elements are required for home-centric healthcare services to succeed: 1) adequate connectivity available to a critical mass of households; 2) compelling applications; 3) a clear business case for patients, healthcare providers, and payers (including state and local governments); 4) a supportive regulatory environment; and 5) data-driven evidence that telehealth services deliver positive outcomes.
Fortunately, all of these elements are largely already in place. Over 80% of American households have access to broadband networks with gigabit speed capabilities, and cable ISPs continue their efforts to upgrade, build out, and expand their networks. Fixed wireless broadband technologies and the FCC's recent decisions to make more spectrum available are also providing new opportunities to connect people in rural and underserved areas with robust broadband service.
Hundreds of state and local governments have also established smart community initiatives to drive innovation and technology use to improve the quality of life of their residents. Examples of innovative applications include those that better manage traffic, water, and waste, and involve using connected devices such as smart stoplights, streetlamps, and parking meters. And of course, the most important component to making all of these devices communicate seamlessly is connectivity—a robust, reliable, and fast network. In turn, delivering telehealth services to a patient in his or her home requires the same secure broadband network that powers a smart community.
Notably, just as cable ISPs are the ideal partners for smart community projects as they relate to transportation, public safety, and emergency preparedness, for the same reasons they are also equipped with the resources, expertise, and capabilities needed to advance home-based telehealth services in communities nationwide. Cable ISPs not only provide gigabit speeds in both urban and rural areas, they have also been working towards rolling out 10 gigabit speeds to households across America since the industry's 10G initiative announcement in 2019. A secure 10G network will be critical to home-centered healthcare in the future, as connected devices play an even larger role in monitoring a person's health and wellness habits, tracking progress, and transmitting the data to medical staff. Cable ISPs are also well experienced in supporting and maintaining multiple devices in a household for multiple users, which is all the more important as connected medical devices become staples in the home.
As far as security and privacy go, cable operators along with CableLabs—the industry's R&D arm—have been working with multiple stakeholders, including NIST and the Open Connectivity Foundation, to increase the security of connected devices and to ensure compliance of healthcare industry rules while keeping devices as user-friendly as possible. Not to mention, cable operators already connect millions of consumers, which puts them in the ideal spot to reach seniors and more vulnerable populations who need assistance in connecting online and with leveraging equipment they already have in their home, such as TVs, to communicate with their healthcare providers.
Lastly, cable ISPs have developed relationships and partnerships with thousands of healthcare providers over the past several decades in their work to expand broadband access. They are perfectly positioned to leverage those relationships and to build new ones in order to give home-based telehealth services the ability to thrive.
Telehealth practices grew exponentially and improved in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, but challenges remain to ensure that people receive top-notch care from the comfort of their own homes. As the paper declares, collaboration among diverse stakeholders is essential to creating policies that protect patients and families and to ensuring that innovative solutions have the opportunity to manifest and bring telehealth to the next level. Cable ISPs are an invaluable and necessary part of these partnerships. The future-proofed, resilient networks they have built over the past several decades now connect tens of millions of people across the country, and have enabled those tens of millions of people to continue working, learning, and connecting during the COVID-19 pandemic. The resources, expertise, and experience that cable ISPs possess, on top of the relationships they have forged, will be crucial to reinventing home-centered healthcare in the best way possible.
For more information, read the full paper here. Also, watch the US Ignite video below as featured panelists, including the whitepaper’s author, William Maguire, discuss the roles that smart communities, connectivity, and diverse stakeholders play in advancing home-centered healthcare in America.