The FCC’s Connect2Health task force has updated and expanded data sets that track the association between broadband access and community health across the U.S.
This year the Mapping Broadband Health in America initiative identified 214 “critical need” counties where data revealed “gaps, needs, and opportunities in the broadband and health space.” Its “Priority” list had slightly fewer counties than last year — 96, down from 100 — while the “Rural Priority” list was expanded to 175 from 100. Some rural counties appear on both lists.
The agency says the program shows the burgeoning connection between connectivity and health. “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,” the FCC said in a release.
The task force also launched the Positive Trend Inventory, a year-by-year progression of “critical need” counties’ efforts to increase broadband access and health standards. The counties in the Inventory can “graduate” from critical need status if they display consistent progression. Likewise, the Inventory allows for quick identification and remediation of counties that are trending downward in either health or connectivity. The health data comes from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings.
The interactive maps illustrate the correlation between lack of technological infrastructure and quality health care in counties across the country. Some of the most glaring conclusions involve an increase in double-burden counties, where low access to broadband is paired with high rates of chronic diseases like diabetes.
The updated data sets show that 42 percent of rural “critical need” counties, representing more than 2 million people collectively, had worsening broadband and health metrics, according to the FCC.
Other data showed that preventable hospitalizations were 150 percent higher in less-connected counties than in those that are more connected.
The updated data provides increased opportunity for collaboration and partnership within the private sector, as it informs both telecom services and health care providers of areas where investment would pay off. The FCC says investors, entrepreneurs and companies can use the maps and data to fine-tune their strategies and target their products to the most receptive communities, ultimately benefiting consumers and companies alike.
“This critical update to the Task Force’s mapping platform unpacks the broadband health realities faced by communities nationwide and makes them easily accessible to the public and decision-makers.” said Michele Ellison, Chair of the Connect2HealthFCC task force.
The maps display “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,” Ellison said.