In 2000, the U.S.
Government is investing more than a billion dollars to reinvent the way
that health care is delivered to the American people. Some of the money
will go to research. Some of it will be used by Federal agencies like
DOD and NASA to develop telemedicine initiatives tailored to serve their
own workforces. And, much of the money will be parceled out by
government agencies at every level in the form of grants to private
institutions -- hospitals, colleges, and universities -- that are
developing their own telemedicine infrastructures and responding to the
specific needs of specific communities.
But, no matter where
the money goes, providers and beneficiaries eventually must face the
same fundamental truth. For telemedicine to work, everyone in the
process has to be “wired.”
In places like rural Arkansas and Alabama, Oregon, and Washington, people with low incomes and poor access to medical facilities also live on the wrong side of the “digital divide,” so they continue to suffer from inadequate medical attention. The technology that patients need to benefit from telemedicine may be available at hosting facilities -- big hospitals in their state capitals – but, it’s absent from remote communities and the homes of potential users. And, without computers -- or even telephones, in some cases -- citizens in rural communities are unable to enjoy the benefits of telemedicine.
the “Digital Divide”
Federal agencies like
the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and HHS think they have an answer.
Not only is it important to develop technologies that can service
patients who live far outside the traditional service areas, it’s also
imperative to provide rural communities with the technologies and
equipment they must have, and generally cannot afford, to access the
services of long-distance medical providers.
Rural Utilities Service
(RUS) was created more than a half century ago to provide telephone
service to rural America. Today, RUS is working aggressively to wire the
communities of the rural poor with the telecommunications services
they’ll need in the 21st century.