AMIA sees internet access as a social determinant of health

FCC headquarters
In a letter to the FCC, AMIA said access to broadband should be considered a social determinant of health.

Education, socioeconomic status, housing insecurity and education are among the well-established social determinants of health. One informatics association believes internet access should be included as well.

In a letter (PDF) to the Federal Communications Commission, the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) said it “believes that access to broadband is, or soon will become, a social determinant of health,” and urged the federal agency to take steps to improve internet access for certain populations to allow for widespread use of health technology.

The letter was a response to a request for input from the FCC in April seeking feedback from stakeholders about the regulatory and infrastructure shortcomings affecting broadband that could impact health IT advancements. Last year, the federal agency released a broadband mapping tool designed to identify broadband gaps, which then-FCC Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn called “a super-determinant of health.”

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AMIA urged the FCC to consider regulations that would provide high-speed internet access to low-income populations that could benefit from mobile health interventions. For example, allowing disadvantaged populations to access mHealth applications or participate in research studies without paying data charges “would significantly increase the use of such applications by those that are underserved, improve their access to health information and care, and ultimately, improve clinical outcomes.”

Additionally, the association noted that new FCC policies should leverage broadband-enabled solutions for specific patient populations, including substance abuse—particularly in light of the worsening opioid epidemic—and patients with chronic diseases.  

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Broadband access is likely to take on a bigger role in healthcare as mHealth apps, remote monitoring and telehealth take on a bigger market share. In a report earlier this year, the NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association raised concerns about broadband’s impact on health IT innovation, pointing to the impact that telehealth solutions have for rural communities that require infrastructure updates.