Why Lack of Broadband Internet Access Is a Public Health Concern

Not having internet is a surprising obstacle to good health.

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Having the internet is often considered the norm these days—so much so, that it’s easy to forget that not everyone has the internet. Surprisingly, about 19 million Americans do not have access to broadband internet, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). 

Broadband refers to high-speed internet access. If no broadband is available in your area, you might be stuck with slow and expensive dial-up, or you won’t be able to connect at all—and you’ll miss more than just memes and cat videos. While there are several concerns about not having high-speed internet access, the focus has recently turned to how lack of broadband could affect health.

For starters, most Americans without broadband internet live in rural areas, which already have a low concentration of hospitals. People in these areas often have to travel several hours to see a doctor, and even farther to see a specialist for challenging conditions. And it's not just the patients: Any hospital in an area without broadband internet access will also be severely affected by the slow connection.

Many of the solutions for connecting rural Americans to faraway doctors and specialists would require high-speed internet access, such as “telehealth,” or the use of webcam to connect doctors and patients remotely.

Beyond telehealth, limited internet access could also inhibit a patient’s ability to research physicians and healthcare facilities online. This can make it difficult for patients to find the doctors they might need or benefit from.

Similarly, people without broadband access may also have a harder time researching health and wellness tips to treat and prevent chronic illness, as well as finding online health community groups. Improving broadband access in the United States could potentially help empower more Americans to make better lifestyle choices.

And finally, new technology such as wearable sensors are helping to monitor vital signs or detect problems, but many of these treatment tools require good internet (for both the patient and doctor). Lack of broadband could prevent patients from benefiting from these new monitoring tools, and doctors from using them to monitor their patients.

All of these issues are especially troubling considering that rural health has become a big concern, and many possible solutions would require broadband internet access. This means other creative ideas are needed to support rural or frontier Americans—or helping to get all Americans to the net.