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Wireless Broadband Improvements Key to Rural Telehealth

Remote communities depend on reliable wireless broadband to participate in rural telehealth programs.

wireless broadband supports rural telehealth

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- ExteNet Systems announced its plans to deploy a CBRS Part 96 ready LTE fixed wireless network with internet service provider Paladin Wireless to provide high-speed wireless internet to enterprise customers across northern Georgia. These improvements can potentially have a significant impact on rural telehealth.

ExteNet is a distributed network systems (DNS) provider that enables advanced cellular, wireless, and broadband connectivity. Paladin Wireless is a Georgia-based internet services provider with a focus on bringing internet connections to rural populations by leveraging broadband.

ExteNet's small cell and distributed evolved packet core (EPC) solution will support fixed wireless service for Paladin Wireless over the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band. This will deliver high-speed LTE connectivity to Paladin users. The goal is to combine the technology to offer users in rural communities a better alternative to legacy solutions.

"Our goal is to help bridge the digital divide in rural and remote communities," ExteNet Systems Vice President of Business Development and Strategic Initiatives Jason Osborne said in a statement. "In partnering with Paladin Wireless, we worked to deliver a fixed wireless solution that is an alternative to legacy solutions, like satellite and DSL, to support high-bandwidth applications.”

“Paladin Wireless will have the ability to offer fast and reliable wireless connectivity to its customers in the northeastern Georgia region,” he continued. “In addition, this same infrastructure can support multiple use cases including mobile roaming services from the Tier 1 providers when conditions demand."

Access to broadband is also a large part of telehealth as more organizations are looking to bridge the digital divide for rural communities that don’t have internet access to participate in telehealth initiatives.

"Broadband access is often a community's key to realizing its dreams and ambitions in the digital age," Congressman Doug Collins of Georgia's 9th congressional district said in a statement. "We need innovative solutions to deliver last-mile service to much of northeastern Georgia, and it's encouraging to see companies investing in these families and businesses by providing high-speed access to the internet, which means access to opportunity."

Telehealth programs are on the rise especially in rural communities. Chronically ill patients that cannot travel to their care provider on a regular basis benefit greatly from telehealth programs because they can interact with their clinician without leaving home.

Access to reliable broadband in rural areas can make it easier for traveling clinicians to communicate with the network to they can get the information they need quickly and modify secure records as needed from remote locations.

Reliable broadband also allows rural patients to share data with their care providers remotely and have stable access to patient portals.

Broadband has become such an important factor for patient care that the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) released a letter urging the FCC to categorize broadband access among the social determinants of health as it continues to develop policies and programs in the future.

AMIA stated that “healthcare is being transformed by the availability and accessibility of broadband-enabled services and technologies and the development of life-saving wireless medical devices.”

The letter said that the digital divide impacts rural users heavily and when it comes to their medical care, which can leave them vulnerable if they aren’t able to adequately communicate with their care providers.

It’s important for wireless vendors to recognize this and improve their technology and coverage area for the benefit of rural communities. Vendors improving their technology to meet those connectivity needs will make it much easier for rural communities to access the same digital tools as patients in more urban areas with better access to broadband and WiFi.

Healthcare technology is expanding and much of it depends heavily on connectivity. Providers and vendors need to consider their demographic of patients and users and make sure they have access to the tools they need.