Because telehealth requires consultations from a distance, a dependable and secure Internet connection is crucial. Not all areas of the U.S. have internet access; however, efforts are being made to build stronger broadband infrastructure. In 2010, the U.S. government initiated the National Broadband Plan to ensure that all communities have access to broadband service by 2020. As it relates to healthcare, the plan states, “Broadband-enabled health information technology (IT) can improve care and lower costs by hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming decades…” Congress dedicated billions of dollars in funding to support the National Broadband Plan.
While healthcare providers are responsible for their own Internet connections, some areas, especially those in rural and underserved areas such as Arkansas, may benefit from a technology grant.
In 2012, Arkansas received significant funding to improve internet capabilities for telemedicine as well as distance and continuing education programs. The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and the Arkansas e-Link team was awarded $102 million by the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTA) to support a statewide $128 million broadband infrastructure to serve community institutions across the state. The Arkansas e-Link team has installed and/or upgraded broadband, interactive video units, and public access personal computers in communities all over the state. The Arkansas e-Link infrastructure has impacted more than 3,900 community institutions, 61,000 businesses, and reached more than 185,000 underserved families.