by Cedric Dark with contributions from Justin Lowenthal, Meenakshi Bewtra, and Ali Khan
As I wrote in November with Dr. Ali Khan in Medium, closing the broadband internet gap represents one of many strategies needed to successfully bring the COVID-19 pandemic to a close. Not only that, expanding access to broadband internet across the country, from urban oases to rural sanctuaries, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast, will leapfrog Americans into the digital future that will define 21st century health care. Voters knew this as they chose Joe Biden to serve this country in its highest office, eschewing a predecessor whose legacy will ultimately demonstrate the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans.
In the past 12 weeks, we have seen an exponential rise in vaccination distribution and administration. And in the past month, we’ve seen a historic promise to invest in American infrastructure.
As a physician, President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion jobs and infrastructure plan contains several items that I believe would improve the health of Americans. Among these are provisions worth $45 billion to replace lead pipes and service lines, such as those which have contaminated drinking water in places like Flint., Michigan. An additional $18 billion would go to improving care for veterans by modernizing VA hospitals and clinics, the clinical environment where over 70% of practicing physicians have trained at some point in their career. A sizable chunk of funding would go towards expanding home and community support for the elderly and disabled, keeping these populations out of more costly and less hospitable institutional settings.
While these aspects of President Biden’s infrastructure plan are to be lauded, providing universal broadband internet is among the most ambitious and transformative aspects of the plan.
Had our nation had universal broadband internet a year ago, imagine how much better we would have been prepared to respond to this COVID-19 pandemic. Students would have been better equipped to study from home enabling more rapid decisions to close down and stop the spread; employees could have maintained productivity without the pressures of beefing up their home offices. And as we all quickly learned last spring and summer, telemedicine was poised for explosive growth in caring for people with acute illness as well as managing those with chronic conditions.
Telemedicine still has the potential to improve the reach of medicine, bringing care into people’s homes and permitting highly specialized consultation such as telepsychiatry, intensive care monitoring, and acute, unscheduled care in hard to reach places such as rural communities, Native American reservations, and underserved urban environments.
The rapid advances we have witnessed in the past 12 months, from genomic therapies such as mRNA vaccines, to telemedicine, and the rapid dissemination of science via pre-prints and open access to COVID research in top medical journals promises to democratize health advances around the world if the Biden Administration can continue to put forth financial and regulatory support for these advances.
We should applaud the Biden administration for declaring that broadband is infrastructure. Universal broadband internet will bring the dream of health care directly to the patient, enabling equity and permitting physicians to serve all Americans, Black, white, and brown, from every village, every hamlet, and every city across this great nation.