Don Parsons, State Representative, North Cobb County, GA

Broadband is a service that millions of Americans have come to take for granted in suburban and urban areas of our nation. As is the case with most people in those suburban and urban areas who have used the internet since its widespread use began in the 1990s, the infrastructure carrying my internet service has evolved from dial-up on our family land line to high speed, large bandwidth broadband service from my telco provider today. Unfortunately, that is not the case for people in vast areas of rural Georgia and rural America today. For millions of them, the service has not evolved.

Over the last two years, I have met with many people in rural Georgia who do not have broadband availability. I have visited schools where, although broadband is available in the facility, it is not available at the students’ homes. I have spoken with community leaders who know that they cannot attract investment and jobs without broadband availability. Existing small business owners in those communities cannot transfer digital files necessary for carrying out normal business transactions; functions that are carried out in metro areas without a second thought. The problems caused, and the opportunities lost, by the lack of broadband are legion, but perhaps the most critical issue relates to healthcare. Any time that healthcare is discussed in rural Georgia, and I am certain the same is true across America, the lack of broadband necessary to implement telehealth is a major part of the discussion.

Affordable healthcare is important to all Americans, but for people who live in rural Georgia, and for its community leaders, the issue takes on even greater significance, and for many reasons. As its population declines, hospitals in rural Georgia continue to close. My respect for all the healthcare professions has grown, as I have observed the dedication and professionalism of physicians, nurses, administrators and others who work tirelessly to keep those facilities open to provide services, many of which are life-saving services to Georgians. Strokes, heart attacks, automobile crashes and accidents involving farm equipment are just some of issues that require immediate attention and treatment in a hospital emergency room. From where I live in Metro Atlanta, I can be at a major hospital within fifteen minutes. In addition to that hospital, there are others within twenty miles of my house. That is not so for rural Georgia.

Emergency treatment requires specially equipped centers and health professionals trained in emergency care. Most health services, however, do not require emergency care. From presentations on healthcare that I have heard over the last several months, I have learned that many rural hospitals are doing more to screen those coming to emergency rooms, and if the issue is not truly of an emergency nature, they will be treated in an alternative setting that does not incur the high cost of emergency services. The use of emergency rooms for non-emergency care is an issue that drives the cost of healthcare up, especially in rural areas where up to forty-eight percent of the population is uninsured.

Can telehealth, or as it is also referred to, “telemedicine” fill a vital and extremely important void in access to certain aspects of healthcare, particularly in rural Georgia, and in rural America? I am certain that it can. I am also certain that it already does so in some situations and in some areas, but I am absolutely convinced that not to anywhere the extent that is possible. I recently heard presentations from several representatives from the healthcare professions that have reinforced my opinions on this issue.

The terms “telehealth” and “telemedicine” have been around for a long time. They are not new. Therefore, I have discovered that when these terms are used in healthcare circles, the references may be to very old technologies. For example, to some health professionals the terms refer to a telephone consultation. To some, it simply means sending information via facsimile. The Georgia Department of Public Health reported that there is a public health center in every one of Georgia’s 159 counties. It further reported that every one of those centers has broadband connectivity and telehealth terminal equipment, enabling the use of telehealth at those centers. When I asked how much the telehealth equipment is used, I was told that many of the centers are staffed with only one healthcare professional, and that by the time that individual can locate and set up a physician at a remote location, it is easier to just proceed the old non-technical way. I can certainly understand how that happens, but it leads me to believe that telehealth is not used as it should, even when available, because of a reluctance in the healthcare professions to accept it.

These might be considered functions of telehealth, but they are not the functions that, with today’s technology and broadband deployment to homes, have the power to revolutionize healthcare and bring costs down. My vision of telehealth, and I believe a lot of people share this vision, is that of the healthcare professional, from his or her office, consulting with, testing and diagnosing patients, over the internet, via broadband, right in the patient’s home. I believe it is likely that the cost savings to Medicare and Medicaid alone could fund the universal deployment of rural broadband.

In order for true telehealth to be implemented in Georgia, broadband must be made available throughout the state. According to information from the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), 115 of Georgia’s 159 counties are underserved or unserved by broadband. All but one are rural. It is a problem across the state, however, it appears that South Georgia, as it continues to lose population, is where the problem is the greatest. The healthcare professions must be adaptable to change. The deployment of broadband and the implementation of telehealth can provide better healthcare at less cost. I have spoken with FCC Chairman Pai about this issue, and I am happy to write that he is a strong proponent for rural broadband. I believe that the FCC is looking for ways to help, including identifying possible revenue streams for funding. In the meantime, I will continue to do everything I can, as a Georgia legislator, to provide broadband, and the benefits that are possible with broadband, including telehealth, to the people throughout Georgia, regardless of where they live.


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Capitol Office: 404-656-9198
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