Make sure all Americans have access to telehealth
By Lucy McBride and Reed Hundt
As the covid-19 pandemic tears through the country, weaknesses in our communications and health-care systems have been laid bare. Approximately 25 percent of Americans do not have a primary care doctor, in many cases because of geographic, financial, physical or child-care-related obstacles. To alleviate some of these problems, many medical professionals across the country have already been experimenting with managing patients virtually through videoconference, phone or email.
But Congress must do more to assure that every American has access to telemedicine. That will save lives now and in the future.
As covid-19 makes visiting health-care centers more dangerous, doctors are using telehealth to provide not only medical advice but also a vital human connection. Telehealth also allows for increased access to critical mental-health-care services. When doctors deliver physical and mental health services in tandem, health outcomes improve.
Swift and decisive government action must expedite the shift to telemedicine. Doctors need affordable and secure video conferencing, access to electronic patient records and the ability to collaborate with other doctors remotely. And every American must have at least a smartphone and high-speed broadband at home. On both ends of the doctor-patient virtual relationship, Congress must allocate additional funding. We estimate $75 billion would achieve the goal.
It is imperative that we work to bring affordable high-speed connectivity to every health-care provider and American in parallel with efforts to invent and administer a vaccine. Yet, no single agency has the mission of simultaneously solving both sides of the shift of the doctor-patient relationship from the real to the virtual sphere. To this end, Congress should establish a nonpartisan commission of health-care and telecom tech experts. The commission would pass the regulations and spend the money necessary to give us a more connected and healthier future.
Lucy McBride is a practicing internal medicine physician in Washington. Reed Hundt is a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission under President Bill Clinton and author of “A Crisis Wasted: Barack Obama’s Critical Decisions.”