There is a medical need for improved internet in rural parts of the country. 97% of Americans living in cities have access to high speed internet or broadband, but in rural areas that number drops to 65%, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
Right now, congress is working to change those statistics and lawmakers have asked a local medical leader for help.
The Medical College of Georgia’s Dean David Hess is typically on campus, but Thursday, he will be in Washington D.C. to testify to congress about the importance of high speed internet as it relates to treating patients in rural areas, specifically, those patients who have suffered a stroke.
“Every second you delay, [a stroke patient] looses 32,00 brain cells. Fortunately, you have 96 billion nerve cells,” Dr. Hess explains. “Time is important. This is a time sensitive disease.
He breaks down what that matters specifically in the context of rural areas.
“There are no neurologists, there is no one else to be able to guide the treatment. All the neurologists are in Atlanta or Augusta. That’s a little bit of an overstatement, but pretty true,” Dr. Hess points out.
The lack of neurologists in rural areas is just one example. Dr. Hess says there are some counties in the state that do not even have a primary care doctor.
Dr. Hess is a stroke specialist. Through their REACH program, they use telemedicine to treat patients in more than 30 hospitals across the state.
“When they have a stroke patient, they’ll call our team and one of our team members gets on and does a telestroke consult immediately. Drop what your doing, 2 in the morning, 2 in the afternoon,” Dr. Hess says.
Access to high speed internet is a crucial component to make this possible.
“One of the big issues nationally and in the state of Georgia is better broadband access to rural areas. A lot of areas we’re in if you’re a patient in rural Georgia, you may not have access to the internet like we do in Augusta,” Dr. Hess points out.
Dr. Hess says by this point, most of the hospitals in rural areas have pretty good connection, but not all homes have broadband.
“In the future we’d like to connect to patients homes and that’s where the broadband comes in because right now if you had to connect to a lot of patients homes in rural Georgia, it’d be really difficult to do with a telemedicine consult and even in some smaller clinics,” Dr. Hess says.
Thursday, Dr. Hess will share with representatives about the importance of internet access as it relates to the future of telemedicine. The house Agricultural Appropriations Committee has provided $1.2 billion dollars in funding for rural broadband initiatives during the last 2 fiscal years and they are expected to give more this fiscal year.
Dr. Hess will talk to representatives in D.C. On the state level, this year Governor Brian Kemp signed a bill that allows more than 40 electric membership corporations (EMC) to sell internet as well as power in rural Georgia.