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Telehealth and Poverty

In the age of COVID-19, quarantines and teleworking, telehealth - or virtual care - visits have become a new normal in life. Although meeting with a health professional over phone or video call is a newly adapted practice, many find that it is just as effective as in-person visits. GlobalMed reported “A Massachusetts General Hospital study found that patients reported strong personal connections with providers when using telehealth visits. 62 percent of patients said the quality of telehealth visits was just as good as in-person visits; 21 percent said it was even better.” This is great news for people with internet.

However, many low-income families live in areas without reliable internet or cannot afford internet services. According to information published by the US Census last year, 544,299 households in North Carolina, 321,359 households in Alabama, 872,333 households in Florida, 395,020 households in Tennessee, 290,601 households in South Carolina, 226,003 households in Mississippi, 257,178 households in Kentucky, and 503,557 households in Georgia do not have access to any kind of internet, dial-up or the likes. Without the internet, many of these people can only receive healthcare over the phone or by visiting the office. However, diagnosing an ailment over the phone can be nearly impossible when the doctor can’t see what the problem is or perform necessary tests. Even these alternatives aren’t always options for people, especially many living in rural communities. Many do not have a phone or reliable phone service. And although doctors offices are finding new ways to see patients in person while limiting contact, such as doing parking lot visits, some people don’t have a car. Many professionals are worried about those who are unable to receive medical care due to lack of technology or transportation.

Some counties are fighting these issues by providing mobile hotspots in vans or churches. And these help close the care gap, but only for those who already have a computer or internet-accessible phone. But for those without technology, and without transportation, getting care for serious or minor ailments can be nearly impossible.

In the midst of a pandemic, the gaps in our social infrastructure are becoming glaringly clear. Many of the people who do not have access to transportation, technology or cannot afford phone or internet service also live in poverty. By working together, we can alleviate the effects of poverty, and little by little, help the half of a million households who don’t have internet access be able to afford it. Together, we can help families have the money they need to receive proper care by either affording technology or transportation. Poverty is a web of interlinking issues. Addressing one at a time is what will help untangle the mess.

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