Broadband to Rural Cancer Patients

According to the CDC, Americans living in rural areas are still more likely to die of cancer than their counterparts in urban settings. This sets them apart from the many communities nationwide that have experienced a 20 percent decrease in cancer mortality over the past two decades. Initial analysis of broadband and cancer data shows that the rural cancer areas also face major gaps in broadband access and adoption.

More importantly, in Appalachia, the cancer picture is bleaker than in other rural areas. Research from the University of Virginia, School of Medicine shows that between 1969 and 2011, cancer cases declined in many regions of the country except in rural Appalachia.

According to Bradford Hesse, PhD, Chief, Health Communication and Informatics Research Branch at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), “Research suggests that when patients report symptoms electronically to their care providers, they are almost twice as likely to report improvements to health-related quality of life than those in a disconnected control group.”

To enable symptoms to be reported electronically, the Federal Communications Commerce’s (FCC) “Connect2Health Task Force” (C2HFCC) project and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to increase broadband access and adoption in rural areas especially to help cancer patients.

The project “Linking & Amplifying User-Centered Networks through Connected Health L.A.U.N.C.H): A Demonstration of Broadband-Enabled Health for Rural Populations in Appalachia” will focus on areas with the dual challenge of higher cancer mortality rates and lower levels of broadband access. The initial geographic focus is planned for rural Kentucky.

Current project stakeholders include cancer experts, researchers, technologists and industry representatives from the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center (NCI-designated cancer center), University of California, San Diego’s Design Lab, and Amgen.

FCC and NCI will share data initially in several project areas. The agencies will collaborate on data collection, research, plus other analytic projects and activities that could inform stakeholders.

This includes informing the healthcare and communications industries and the public on the correlation between access to broadband along with information on prevention, detection, and symptom management.

The second project area will enable the agencies to explore opportunities to work with stakeholders to develop one or more pilot projects in rural and underserved areas, potentially including the areas identified in the critical needs county lists developed by the C2HFCC.

Scientific experts under the Memorandum of Understanding were selected to advise the National Cancer Advisory Board and identify critical objectives on how to improve access to technology to enhance access for rural cancer patients.

The experts identified several critical objectives to:

  • Increase interoperability among institutions and individuals that support care delivery across the cancer continuum from prevention through treatment, survivorship, and end-of-life care
  • Make it possible for individuals to manage their health information and participate in their care across the cancer continuum
  • Ensure that federal programs and health IT tools support the oncology workforce as it delivers care
  • Facilitate health information access and sharing by ensuring adequate internet access
  • Facilitate data sharing and integration to improve care, enhance surveillance, and advance research 
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