Rural communities in the US are the least likely to have Internet connectivity. In particular, many rural areas lack broadband connectivity, which is the high-speed Internet capacity that exists in non-rural communities. According to the US Department of Agriculture, at least 22% of all rural communities lack broadband, as compared to only 1.5% of urban communities. As you probably are well aware, the reason that broadband is now so critical is that it is required for cell phone and mobile device Wi-Fi, web-browsing, video-streaming, and many other types of connections. Moreover, it enables users to have a constant Internet connection, rather than having to connect through a dial-up modem.

Why is broadband internet connectivity needed by healthcare providers? 

Healthcare providers, hospitals, and healthcare systems depend upon having a broadband connection to accomplish numerous and diverse tasks, including the following: 

  • Share health data (such as share a hospital record with a patient’s outpatient physicians);  
  • Offer telehealth services to patients; 
  • Interact in groups with other healthcare providers via videoconferencing software;  
  • Quickly communicate with patients and each other via a mobile phone call or text message; 
  • Share large amounts of data with state public health departments (such as share data about in-patients in each hospital admitted monthly with a Covid-19 infection); 
  • Submit a new medication prescription or a “refill” request online to a pharmacy.

Changes that are enabling increased broadband internet access in rural communities 

Various federal governmental executive orders have enabled funding for the infrastructure needed for broadband (“high-speed”) Internet connections. This includes installing the underground cables and nearby satellite towers required for broadband Internet connections. Federal grants and loans have been offered/provided to develop broadband infrastructure in rural populated areas.  

However, a gap still remains between broadband Internet in the homes of rural community residents in the US as opposed to residents of cities. According to a Pew Research Center report in 2024, 73% of adults in rural communities now have broadband Internet at home, as compared to 77% of adults in urban areas and 86% of adults in suburban areas. Notably, that proportion for rural residents was only 58% in 2018. 

The capacity to access telehealth services & why it matters for patient health 

The advantage of having access to telehealth services was highlighted during the Covid-19 pandemic, when access to “in-person” care became limited. One reason was that healthcare providers were concerned about contracting a Covid-19 infection from patients, and another was that patients were concerned about contracting Covid-19 from a healthcare setting. Therefore, telehealth became widely embraced as a way that patients could receive healthcare services without leaving home. This was especially valued by senior-aged and/or immune-compromised adults, who are at increased risk. 

The use of videoconferencing software for telehealth interactions between clinicians (such as doctors and mental health therapists) was embraced, and continues to be particularly beneficial to the following groups of people: 

  • Adults aged 65 and older; 
  • Adults with physical disabilities; 
  • Adults without access to transportation to travel to a healthcare provider’s office. 

People who live in rural communities frequently live far from the nearest hospital and their healthcare providers. The National Rural Health Association reports that – for every 100,000 people in a rural area of the US – there are 39 physicians to serve them. This is a direct contrast to 53 in urban areas. Meanwhile, there are only 30 specialist physicians (such as cardiologists) in rural areas, as opposed to 263 in urban areas. Hospital closures in rural areas in the past few years have far outpaced hospital closures in urban and suburban areas of the US.

The link between lack of broadband internet and chronic health disorders 

It is vital to realize that a lack of access to physicians/hospitals in rural communities is a reason that the residents of rural communities in the US have more chronic health disorders than those not living in rural regions. Since prevention and early treatment of chronic disorders (such as Diabetes-Type 2) are often delayed due to lack of physician access, healthcare researchers have concluded that the high prevalence of chronic disorders in rural residents is largely due to a lack of early prevention and treatment access. Therefore, broadband Internet to access telehealth can be a “super-determinant” of health, per the US Substance and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). 

Digital options for connection 

As innovation continues in the home health space, many companies are moving toward cellular or low internet requirements to make this burden less prevalent and better reach rural communities.

For example, while the Ōmcare Home Health Hub still requires internet to function currently, it is the lowest amount possible, allowing for a lower need by both the patient and provider.