Friday, July 24, 2020

Feasibility Study Recommends Ways to Increase Access to Broadband, Telehealth Services in Western N.C.

The study identified the broadband, health care and telehealth assets and gaps in the 20 coal-impacted counties in the Appalachian region.
Jul 24, 2020

In an effort to increase access to telehealth in western North Carolina, the N.C. Broadband Infrastructure Office and the N.C. Office of Rural Health today released a study on how to increase broadband access, adoption and use, and strengthen the implementation of telehealth services.

The Broadband Feasibility Study for Telehealth in Western North Carolina is the result of more than nine months of data collection and research on best practices.  Although the study began before the COVID-19 pandemic hit North Carolina, telehealth has become increasingly urgent to respond to the public health crisis, especially in the most underserved parts of the state.

“In our current situation, we appreciate the value of telehealth services more than ever before,” said Jeff Sural, director of the N.C. Broadband Infrastructure Office (BIO).  The office is a division of the N.C. Department of Information Technology.  “Telehealth services provide access to care for our most vulnerable citizens across the state when leaving home is a challenge or even risky. Understanding those challenges so that we can build strategies and programs to increase telehealth opportunities is critical.”

In February 2019, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) awarded NCDIT, BIO and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Office of Rural Health (ORH) a $98,000 Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Recovery (POWER) grant.  The purpose of the POWER grant was to study and make recommendations to increase broadband access, adoption and use, and strengthen the implementation of telehealth services.

“The N.C. DHHS Office of Rural Health is proud to partner with NCDIT in this effort. The need for broadband access and the ability to access healthcare, education and employment resources has been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic.” Maggie Sauer, director of the ORH, said.  “The POWER grant afforded our teams, the opportunity to work collaboratively across state government, geography and community stakeholders to complete the study.  Targeting our efforts to reduce the gaps in broadband access has far-reaching impact.”

Through the study, the project team identified the broadband, health care and telehealth assets and gaps in the 20 coal-impacted counties in the Appalachian region in order to design pilot programs that leverage technology to provide appropriate clinical interventions, improve the local population’s health, increase local workforce participation and ultimately improve local economies.

The study includes two dashboards with data visualizations designed to illustrate the region’s capacity to improve both access to and adoption of broadband services and expanded telehealth use.  The Broadband Adoption Potential Index is based on U.S. Census information collected from communities in the ARC region and examines broadband access, subscription data and computer ownership. The Internet Access and SafetyNet Sites in North Carolina’s ARC region shows the distribution of SafetyNet Sites, community anchor institutions, and, where available, households without internet access in those counties.

In addition to the study, BIO released the North Carolina Broadband Survey last week. Information gathered in the survey will be used to provide context to the state’s broadband picture, informing Gov. Roy Cooper’s initiatives on expanding broadband access, guiding funding opportunities through North Carolina’s Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) grant program, shaping research and policy recommendations, and supporting strategic targeting of additional funding channels to ensure all North Carolinians have access to affordable high-speed internet.

The Broadband Feasibility Study for Telehealth Deployment in Western North Carolina is available at

About the Broadband Infrastructure Office

The Broadband Infrastructure Office leads statewide initiatives to expand high-speed internet access, adoption and use for all North Carolinians. This includes the administration of the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) rural broadband grant program which awarded $10 million in 2019 to connect more than 10,000 households, businesses and agricultural operations in 19 counties.

About the Office of Rural Health

The Office of Rural Health (ORH) assists underserved communities by improving access, quality and cost-effectiveness of health care. In state fiscal year 2019, ORH spent $32.8 million from state, federal and philanthropic sources. ORH administers over 300 contracts designed to expand access to high quality health care for rural and underserved populations allowing ORH to return over 88% of its budget directly to North Carolina communities. In addition, ORH provides in-depth technical assistance to the state’s health care safety net system. In 1973, the ORH became the first state office in the nation created to focus on the needs of rural and underserved communities.

Although it does not provide direct care, ORH’s programs support numerous health care safety net organizations throughout North Carolina.

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