FCC takes back Auto Safety Spectrum for Wi-Fi

In an extreme case of use it or lose it, C|Net reports

The US Federal Communications Commission won an important battle in a fight to free up more unlicensed wireless spectrum for Wi-Fi devices.

A federal appeals court on Friday sided with the FCC in its decision to reallocate a big chunk of key spectrum for an expansion of unlicensed Wi-Fi use. The spectrum had previously been set aside for auto safety.

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected a legal challenge from the Intelligent Transportation Society of America and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials seeking to reverse the FCC’s 2020 decision to repurpose about 60% of the 5.9GHz band spectrum block for unlicensed indoor use to help improve speeds and reduce congestion on 5GHz Wi-Fi networks.

UMD is bringing back telehealth counseling by popular demand

Fox21 Duluth reports

Back by popular demand, the University of Minnesota Duluth will offer telehealth counseling again this school year.

During the pandemic, many schools connected virtually with students. Last year, UMD launched its telehealth program, that offers remote mental health counseling.

Now, the university is bringing it back, after seeing how well-received it was by students.

Virtual, in-person, and hybrid counseling sessions will be available. Free of charge and covered by tuition.

People seemed to like it…

“Last year we did our initial appointments virtually and then we talked to students about what it was they wanted moving forward. We were a little surprised, we thought that everybody would want to be back in the in-person in the office, but that wasn’t necessarily the case for all people.”

Baribeau-Thoennes went on to say, it’s important to keep virtual options available, especially during the cold, Minnesota months.

“Our no-show rates for appointments went down. Somebody might be like “oh no my car is blocked in and I have to shovel,” and normally they might have canceled the appointment, but now they just call and say can I switch my appointment to virtual.”

There are policy hiccups…

The kicker is — providers can only give services in their licensed state. Meaning UMD students have to be in Minnesota to use the telehealth option.

Access to telehealth is a digital equity issue

I’ve been seeing an increase in articles on telehealth these days and they usually report that access to technology increases comfort and use of telehealth and that leads to easier access to healthcare – for doctor and patient. Rheumatology Advisor reports

For patients to participate in telehealth encounters, they have to use a number of proprietary, health system-specific portals and platforms. That can be challenging for many older adults and minority groups. Effective virtual care depends on digital fluency, meaning they need to be able to engage in all aspects of digital technologies, from accessing the internet to navigating telehealth applications and performing basic troubleshooting. Many people cannot do this, creating significant barriers to care and telehealth disparities for a large segment of the population.

Boston researchers say the technology has the potential to reduce health disparities, but it also is exacerbating structural inequities. “Telehealth is here to stay, and has the potential to actually improve care outcomes, enhance the patient experience, reduce costs, and address health care inequities,” said Rebecca G. Mishuris, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and Chief Medical Information Officer of the Boston Medical Center Health System in Massachusetts. “This, of course, will only be realized if we can address equity in engagement with telehealth, and fully incorporate it into a holistic care delivery model that employs both virtual and in-person care.”

Some of the numbers…

At her institution, which is a safety net hospital, 21% of Black/African American patients, 20% of Hispanic/Latino patients, and 22% of White patients reported lacking access to a connected device with a camera or microphone. The study on telehealth disparities, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, also showed that 67% of White patients opted to schedule their telehealth visits by video compared with only 60% of Black and Latino patients.

Telehealth visits a boon to vets with opioid addiction

It’s hard to compare the last two years with anything before, given the impact of COVID but even given that difference (or maybe because of it) the stats on veterans in recovery and their use of technology. Southern Minn reports

There are many obstacles to opioid addiction treatment, but a new study shows one that one outgrowth of the COVID pandemic — telehealth — is enabling more U.S. veterans to get help.

Researchers examined care given to vets before and after a transition to telehealth visits in early 2020 for treatment of their opioid use disorder. Telehealth for patients receiving the prescription drug buphrenorphine to treat opioid dependence was relatively new in the Veterans Affairs health system before the pandemic, said lead author Dr. Allison Lin.

“The rapid switch to virtual visits for most patients kept people from dropping out of care, and telephone visits [also] played a key role,” said Lin, an addiction psychiatrist at the Ann Arbor VA in Michigan and investigator at the VA Center for Clinical Management Research.

In 2020, phone appointments significantly outnumbered video and in-person visits, the study found. Even in early 2021, phone visits made up 50% of monthly visits for vets using buprenorphine; video visits, 32%; and in-person care, 17%.

Compared to March 2019, on a monthly basis there was a 14% increase in number of vets receiving buphrenorphine treatment in February of last year. Over that same period, 6% fewer vets overall received any kind of addiction treatment.

Research shows telehealth helps with prenatal and maternal care

The Grand Rapids Herald (via HealthDay News) reports

Researchers from Oregon Health & Science University reviewed 28 randomized clinical trials and 14 observational studies that included more than 44,000 women. The goal was to determine the effectiveness and any harms of telehealth strategies for maternal health care.

Many of the telehealth strategies included were used to treat postpartum depression or to monitor diabetes or high blood pressure during pregnancy. They also served as an alternative to general maternity care for low-risk pregnancies.

Researchers found these appointments resulted in mostly similar, or sometimes better, outcomes compared with in-person care.

The authors said this may mean that telehealth can be a supplement to usual care for postpartum depression. Telehealth interventions were more likely to improve mood symptoms in the short term compared to in-person care alone, they said, though the effects might not be sustained.

What a gift to not have to go into the doctor’s office for every prenatal visit! Less time off work, or for those of us with a few kids, less taking time off work to bundle up a baby for a routine visit to check out the baby-to-be. And that’s coming from someone with only a 10 minute drive to the doctor’s office. The caveat of course is that sufficient broadband is required.

The Roadmap to Telehealth Efficacy – broadband is essential to good health

It was amazing, and lifesaving, to see how quickly healthcare could move online during the pandemic. Healthcare facilities stepped up their game by bringing in the technology, patients stepped by learning how to use it and government stepped up by relaxing rules on reimbursement and licensure. To keep up the momentum we must continue to have engagement from all three players – and the one that seems most precarious is the relaxed rules.

The folks at Brookings recognized this and came up with a report that makes recommendations to help continue use and growth of telehealth…

  1. Federal and state governments must continue telehealth availability and use in a post-pandemic environment through codifying its use, especially in legislation.
  2. Modality neutrality must become a standard practice to adequately address digital disparities, and ensure full use of remote health care.
  3. The U.S. must adopt a federal privacy standard to ensure patient/ provider confidentiality and reduce risks to data
  4. The larger health care community must understand that they, too, are part of efforts to close the national digital divide through training, device availabilities, and online consumer engagement.
  5. States and localities must prioritize telehealth in their broadband plan and include local stakeholders.
  6. Telehealth should be incorporated in value-based payment initiatives.
  7. The incorporation of AI into telehealth must prioritize equity and fairness.

I think it’s helpful for those of us outside of healthcare and/or policy field to see all that is required to make or sustain such a social shift in how we do things. But it’s really the fourth and fifth points that will relate to most readers. Access to healthcare is a compelling reason to strive for better broadband, especially in areas where physical healthcare facilities are not nearby. Remember to invite healthcare folks to your broadband planning meetings and remember to include telehealth training into your digital equity efforts.

New app connects Patients and Pharmacists in Minnesota

Global Newswire reports

ImpactPharm, Inc., the new medication consulting service founded in Minnesota, officially launched its first mobile application, ImpactPharm, on July 14, 2022. The app mainly focuses on medication consultation, especially for patients with special medication needs, such as cancer patients, pregnant or breastfeeding women, as well as patients who live in rural areas of Minnesota. The application will put patients’ minds at ease to connect, discuss, and consult with qualified pharmacists about their medication issues. The app provides functions that benefit all users from 1-on-1 messages, sharing past medical records, retrieving past conversations, and choosing pharmacists based on patient preferences. With ImpactPharm, patients can consult with a pharmacist anywhere, anytime they prefer.

ImpactPharm is innovating how they connect patients with pharmacists. While it is comparatively easier to find a telehealth app for patients to talk with doctors, ImpactPharm found that patients also care about the dosage of a medication, side effects, and further questions relating to the pharmacist’s expertise.

What broadband brings to New Ulm MN – and other rural areas

In Newsweek, Minnesota native and Clearfield CEO, Cheri Beranek, talks about what a difference broadband makes to towns, like her hometown of New Ulm…

As I watched New Ulm Telephone become Nuvera, it grew bigger and provided additional services, and the surrounding areas benefited from that growth because high-speed access in rural communities can attract new businesses. When large facilities in these areas are already equipped with broadband, satellite offices or satellite manufacturing centers can move in more effectively. In the past, manufacturers would only go into rural markets for lower-cost labor, but now, they need labor anywhere they can find it. With broadband, companies can bring these well-paying jobs to rural environments where people need work and draw in even more types of businesses to support that growth.

When broadband brings opportunities into a rural community, it brings them to everyone, including children. Just north of New Ulm are several little towns where kids have to take an hour-long bus ride to get to the nearest school. With broadband in these areas, children could access quality educational services, tools, classes and support from anywhere, and a rural education could provide the same opportunities as one in a city….

The pandemic has shown us how hard life can be without access to quality health care and how much better broadband can make it, but people in rural communities have long understood these disadvantages. From economic and transportation concerns to workforce shortages and insurance coverage, barriers to health care in rural communities lead to less healthy people. When COVID-19 started to spread, the lack of broadband compounded all these barriers. As broadband expands into these areas to provide easier access to health care and telemedicine, a healthier population can drive a healthier economy.

Americans for Responsible Technology promote FTTH over wireless solutions

Public News Service reports…

Groups that promote the responsible deployment of technology are celebrating the Biden administration’s new $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program because it favors fiberoptic technology over broadband communications technologies such as cable, satellite, DSL and wireless.
Gary Bolton – president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association – said fiberoptic connections are faster, more reliable, and can adapt easily to future technological advances.
“You’ll be able to do things like smart-grid modernization, public safety, and even advanced services like 5G,” said Bolton. “So having this near-limitless capacity is going to really close the digital divide once and for all.”

One reason for supporting fiber is the unintended impact of wireless…

Americans for Responsible Technology President and Founder Doug Wood said health groups favor fiber broadband over wireless because wireless cell towers emit radiofrequency radiation. And a 2018 study from the National Institutes of Health linked RF radiation to cancer in lab animals.

“We’re beginning to understand that it has biological impacts, even at levels far below what the government considers safe,” said Wood. “So, it seems like an unwise decision to start installing wireless antennas and wireless broadband and communities across the country.”

Being online helps learn about and access some activities for older adults in rural Minnesota

MinnPost reports

Social well-being is essential to good health. Yet, as the COVID-19 pandemic roiled the country and upended social routines, supporting social well-being became even more challenging, including in rural areas. Social well-being was impacted most directly by the need to socially distance and isolate, and many people moved some or all their social activity online. However, this proved more challenging in rural areas, where broadband connectivity is less available and devices are less omnipresent, and for older adults, who generally report lower use of online technology than their younger counterparts.

In an April, 2022 report released by AP and NORC at the University of Chicago, rural adults age 50 and older reported the lowest level of satisfaction with available social activities in their community (only 38% thought the area they lived in was doing a good job at providing social activities, compared with 52% in urban areas and 55% in suburban areas, despite the fact that older adults make up a disproportionate share of rural residents). The survey also showed that rural residents reported lower satisfaction with transportation and availability of services to help them age in their own homes, compared with their urban and suburban counterparts.

They looked at the impact of broadband access and info…

We researched social opportunities in all 60 non-metropolitan counties in Minnesota, focusing most on those geared toward older adults. We found ample opportunities, but also variation between counties. Most – but not all – counties offer some combination of social infrastructure, including public libraries, senior centers, farmer’s markets, faith-based organizations (notably mostly Christian churches), American Legions and/or VFWs, and public parks. For some, there were community arts centers and hobby groups (e.g., quiltingfitness classes, bee keepingcardsgardeningcommunity theatermovie nightsbingophotographyfishingart classeswine tastingbook clubs).

Some counties and communities made it easy to find opportunities online. For example, the Todd County website listed a variety of opportunities and social infrastructure resources in an accessible, user-friendly fashion. This is good for residents looking for new ways to connect with each other, but is also important for loved ones who live out of town and are trying to find opportunities for those they care about. Many counties also have local news sources through which activities and events can be shared, although the availability and independence of those has decreased nationally in recent years, potentially making it more difficult to share local social opportunities.

Other counties and communities were much more opaque about social opportunities for older adults. Either the opportunities don’t exist, or, more likely, they organize by word of mouth or other forums. That begs the question, who might that be leaving out? How would newcomers to communities learn about social opportunities and connections, and how can out-of-town loved ones help their family members find ways to connect?

CTC and Crow Wing County pursue CARES funds for Crosby and Ironton MN

The Brainerd Dispatch reports on Crow Wing County and CTC and their pursuit of CARES funding for broadband…

Combined Notice of Finding of No Significant Impact and Notice of Intent to Request Release of Funds State of Minnesota Community Development Block Grant Coronavirus (CDBG-CV) Program

Date of posting: June 1, 2022 or Date of publication: June 1, 2022

Responsibility Entity: Crow Wing County, Minnesota 326 Laurel Street Brainerd, MN 56401 218-824-1067

Preparer: Consolidated Telephone Company 1102 Madison Street Brainerd, MN 56401 218-454-1234

TO ALL INTERESTED PARTIES, GROUPS AND PERSONS: The purpose of this notice is to identify two separate but related actions to be taken by the Crow Wing County, Minnesota (hereinafter referred to as the Grantee). One, the Grantee has made a Finding of No Significant Impact on project activities described below and two, the Grantee intends to request the Business and Community Development Division, Small Cities Development Program, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED BCD) to release Community Development Block Grant Coronavirus (CDBG-CV) funds authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) (PL166-136) for the following project. Pursuant to HUD CPD Notice 20-07 “Guidance on conducting environmental reviews pursuant to 24 CFR Part 58 for activities undertaken in response to the public health emergency as a result of COVID-19” this notice combines the public comment and objection periods into one 18-day comment period. CARES Act funding is needed on an emergency basis as projects funded with CARES Act funds are designed to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the Presidentially declared coronavirus health emergency. Project title or name: Crow Wing County CDBG-CV Broadband Development Project (CWC Broadband Project)

Describe the project in detail: Crow Wing County’s will swiftly deploy a fiber optic to the premise (FTTP) network to hundreds of low to moderate income residents within an area which was economically distressed pre-pandemic and even more so as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Just as some residents in the area were finding new work because of an increase in local tourism and storefront openings in the nearby cities of Crosby and Ironton, the pandemic shut down business and tourism… resulting in greater economic hardship and financial loss to many of the residents in the Cuyuna region. A lack of broadband infrastructure made distance learning virtually impossible for Crosby-Ironton School District (ISD 182) students and teachers in the area. Additionally, Cuyuna Regional Medical Center was unable to offer telehealth services to many of the patients it serves due to a lack of broadband. This project better prepares the residents in the project area for distance learning, telehealth, and work from home opportunities State justification on why this can be covered under an expedited review: HUD notice CPD-20-07 issued on August 6, 2020 provides guidance on conducting environmental reviews pursuant to 24 CFR Part 58 for activities undertaken in response to the public health emergency as a result of COVID-19.

Madison Mercantile: When broadband makes community easier (LqP County)

On our trip to Western Minnesota, Mary Magnuson and I stopped in to visit the Madison Mercantile. The folks at the UMVRDC (Upper Minnesota River Valley Regional Development Commission) had clued us into the interesting things they were doing. And while this isn’t a broadband-forward project, it’s an example of what folks can do when broadband is ample and the community is engaged – in part because they have been connected, even during the pandemic, via broadband.

The Madison Mercantile is a coffee shop, art gallery innovation center built in a rehabbed hardware store. The footprint is huge. We walked in and saw tables people chatting, art and the coffee shop. The proprietor/creator Kris Shelstad immediately apologized for the mess. (She was working on replacing part of a carpet.)  Then she quit what she was doing and gave us the whole tour, with backstory, despite the fact that she had no idea of who we were.

As briefly as possible, Kris is originally from the area. She moved away to Austin TX, joined the army, got married and a couple years ago lost her spouse. That led her back home, but she missed the scene in Austin. So, she decided to create the same opportunities for art and beer and music and community by buying out the old hardware store. She started to rehab it based on the needs of the community, ways to minimize heat bills and her vision. Her vision included creating a space to showcase art left to her from her friend Janice Anderson. Janice’s art is mixed media collage with an eye for color nuances, clever messaging and inherently rural appeal. It feels like through Kris, Janice is helping boost and nurture a local art scene.

Along with a couple of art galleries, the space hosts local musicians and serves as a “third space” community center. You can pop in for coffee or you can host your birthday party. There are spaces for local discussions and classes. In fact, when we were there a group of local entrepreneurs gathered to talk about using social media. (Funny enough, I recognized one entrepreneur from a social media class I taught in the area 10 years ago!)

There’s also a maker space or innovation center. It created itself because retired farmers from the community, who used to hang out at the hardware store kept showing up wondering if Kris needed any help or time to chat. Kris recognized the need and opportunity and made room. There’s also a museum of medical supplies like walkers and wheelchairs, which folks can borrow as needed. Apparently the 90 year old woman, who used to lend these from her home, donated them.

There are also plans for public computer access, a wellness center and Zoom room. If you are in the area, you will have to check it out. It’s the best example of a bottom up solution I’ve seen. Kris told us that she decided that for one year she’d say yes to everything. She has and she’s tired but man is that a cool center and it can’t help but engage community!

Mankato Clinic expands virtual care across 13 facilities (Blue Earth County)

PR Newswire reports

 Bluestream Health, a virtual care Platform-as-a-Service, has enabled access to virtual care for Mankato Clinic’s 13 healthcare facilities across four rural communities in southern Minnesota.

Bluestream Health’s virtual care platform provides access for patients to Mankato Clinic’s full spectrum of health specialties, services, and programs for primary care to care management to pediatrics. Bluestream Health is also providing interpreting services to patients through the virtual platform.

Telehealth Benefit Expansion for Workers Act offers telehealth as standalone service

Healthcare IT News reports

The House of Representatives has drafted a bill that would provide new virtual care options for American employees.

WHY IT MATTERS
The proposed Telehealth Benefit Expansion for Workers Act would enable job creators to offer standalone telehealth service programs – not unlike dental and vision plans – in addition to existing health insurance plans.

The legislation was introduced by Reps. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., Tim Walberg, R-Mich., and Angie Craig, D-Minn. It would expand access to employer-sponsored health benefits by classifying telehealth as an excepted benefit.

Specifically, the bill would amend HIPAA and the Affordable Care Act to allow employees to receive this benefit, maintaining that any standalone telehealth service would remain separate from traditional health plans, rather than as a replacement.

Telehealth Use Among Medicare Beneficiaries Multiplied by 88 during the Pandemic

Internet Innovation reports..

Medicare beneficiaries completed 54.5 million virtual office visits in 2020, according to a new federal report released by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General. The analysis considers Medicare fee-for-service claims data and Medicare Advantage encounter data from March 1, 2020, to Feb. 28, 2021, and from March 1, 2019, to Feb. 29, 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused telehealth use to skyrocket. Medicare beneficiaries used 114.4 million telehealth services from March 2020 to February 2021, which is 88 times the use of these services by this population the year prior.

From March 2020 through February 2021, 43 percent of Medicare’s 66 million beneficiaries – more than 28 million people enrolled in Medicare – used a telehealth service. Prior to the pandemic, just one percent of beneficiaries used telehealth.