Circumstances of the pandemic enhanced awareness of the benefits of telemedicine, and a new bill aimed at legalizing those services permanently raises the question of broadband access, particularly in rural Kansas.
“At no time has the importance of telemedicine been more evident than during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Cindy Samuelson, senior vice president of member and public relations at Kansas Hospital Association, told The Center Square. “In Kansas, it is reported approximately 48% of Kansans used telemedicine during the pandemic. Overall, it appears providers and patients have favorably viewed their telemedicine experiences, but there continue to be challenges including difficulty using technology and accessing broadband.”
The Protecting Rural Telehealth Access Act would keep telehealth services after the pandemic. The legislation would allow for audio-only telehealth appointments and ensure pay parity for those services. Restrictions around being treated at home would be waived.
Audio-only parity is important in Kansas, which ranks 28th in the nation in broadband connectivity. Many rural Kansans are not connected to high-speed internet, and the bill would allow for rural health clinics to serve as distance telehealth sites.
A poll funded by the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund and REACH revealed that 86% of Kansans support expanding or maintaining telehealth options. The survey also revealed that 90% of rural Kansans believe telehealth must remain an option for patients after the pandemic is over.
Samuelson said that telehealth is one way to ensure Kansans have the same access to health care services regardless of geographic location.
“This conversation also needs to include the continued discussion for the state to develop a comprehensive strategy around broadband, as telemedicine works best when there is adequate connectivity to support it,” Samuelson said. “We hope elected officials and health insurance partners are paying close attention and permanently put in place many of the telemedicine flexibilities offered during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
This article was originally posted on Pandemic use of telemedicine brings Kansas broadband access to light