Editor’s Note: Nowhere is the power of broadband to change lives more evident than in the field health care — especially in rural America. In the May/June issue of the regional telco magazine produced by WordSouth, NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield writes about efforts on behalf of national associations to advance the cause of rural telemedicine by seeking ways to partner. Following is her article.
By Shirley Bloomfield, CEO
NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association
The importance of health care to rural citizens has long been on the minds of three groups: NRECA, the association representing the nation’s rural electric cooperatives; NRHA, the association representing health care providers and institutions in rural America; and us, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association. While we all would acknowledge that access to health care is vital for a rural community’s well being, we had not figured out a way to combine and intersect to further that goal. Until now.
Leaders from NTCA, NRECA and NRHA met earlier this year and agreed that we have a lot of interests in common. Instead of shooting off in different directions as we try to address rural health care, telemedicine and support for rural facilities, we could be more powerful working together — so that is what we are going to try to do.
In our initial meeting with these two groups, we learned that 673 rural hospitals are vulnerable to closures. I was impressed by NRHA’s efforts to promote federal legislation to save rural hospitals. When a rural hospital closes, the economy of a rural community erodes. How might broadband play a role in keeping essential services supported, or even assist in the transition from traditional to telemedicine care? I think there are some really interesting places to take this partnership and we’re willing to devote the time and energy to do just that. I will keep you posted as these talks progress.