As pervasive as the internet has become in modern society, some areas of North America are so remote, adequate broadband connections have yet to be established. While that may prevent people residing in the far flung wildernesses of New England from streaming videos on their PCs, it also means that hospitals in those areas have no access to the electronic health records and digital images that are increasingly standard resources for most healthcare facilities. The New England Telehealth Consortium (NETC), a federally funded network of medical providers, is launching an initiative to allow rural communities to utilize the same technological advancements as urban hospitals.
The tricky business of rural healthcare
Currently, remote regions of New England are serviced by mobile health clinics. In the deep forests of Vermont, medical trailers roam the wilderness providing residents with treatment. For areas that are both remote and cannot feasibly be accessed over land, such as Maine’s outer islands, medical care is provided by seacraft. Unfortunately, these mobile health clinics would never have the capability to plug into a broadband network via traditional methods.
“Those mobile clinics, when they’re on the barrens of Washington County, they’re isolated from electrical power, certainly no broadband internet, no fiber,” NETC President Brian Thibeau told the Bangor Daily News. “They can treat, but obviously it’s in isolation.”
Connecting mobile medical facilities to the internet
NETC, however, intends to outfit these vehicles with the equipment necessary to connect to the internet through a satellite. According to the Nashua Telegraph, mobile health clinics will be supplied with high-speed routers allowing them to connect to the Spaceway 3 satellite, enabling access to a range of telehealth resources, including video conferencing, prescription dispensing and computer monitoring software. Healthcare providers will also be able to contact doctors in other areas to remotely consult on a diagnosis or course of treatment.
NETC’s initiative is the latest development in the field of telemedicine. Medical practitioners have always wrestled with the difficulties inherent in providing adequate healthcare to remote areas. Using satellites to connect mobile health clinics to the internet is a step toward progress. The infrastructure needed for broadband internet may not reach the New England wilderness for some time, but with this new project, the citizens can receive the same quality medical treatment that city dwellers experience.
Should the governments of the United States and Canada be investing more in broadband infrastructure? Can satellites provide adequate coverage for rural communities? Tell us what you think in the comment section below!