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Who we should thank (yes, thank) for rural broadband

Here’s how fast things have changed.

Until just a few weeks ago — before self-distancing, before stay-at-home orders — only about 1% of the patient visits in the Carilion Clinic system were being handled “virtually” through video calls or sometimes regular phone calls.

Now, about 75% are.

Here’s another turn-on-a-dime statistic: Before the pandemic, about 5% of American workers worked from home. Now a Gallup survey says 62% are. That’s an awful lot of life that has suddenly moved online — work, school, medicine.

The big question is how much of this will stick once things return to normal, or a “new normal.” The best guess is probably a lot. In the case of all that telemedicine, “I don’t think we’ll put the genie back in the bottle,” says Carilion President and CEO Nancy Agee. “We’ve now learned we know how to do it and we can do it. Our clinicians like it and best of all our patients really like it — it’s convenient.” She cites the case of the patient who had an appointment for a doctor to check on how on they were healing after surgery. No longer does that patient need to drive to the doctor’s office; he or she can simply go online and show the doctor the surgery site. That’s the upside. Now the downside. All this depends on people actually having access to broadband which, as we all know, many in rural areas don’t. U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, says one of the ways the pandemic will change things is that it will place even more emphasis on closing what is often called “the digital divide.” The push to do more things online “will dramatically raise the stakes,” he says.

To learn more, check out the whole article below.