5G mobile networks will bring healthcare closer to rural communities
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Staying connected to the rest of the world is vital to the wellbeing and prosperity of communities in rural and small town America—especially when it comes to health care. But given the vast distances often involved, it has proven challenging for many rural communities to access a robust, physical connection to the global digital network.
According to the Federal Communications Commission, 39 percent of rural Americans lack access to broadband internet, creating a real disparity between those who live in the country and those who live in cities and towns. Chairman Ajit Pai has taken steps to enhance rural broadband access and adoption through his Digital Empowerment Agenda and Phase II of the Mobility Fund (MF-II). At February’s open commission meeting, Pai noted that "for far too long ... the commission has not kept its promise to rural America to hold an MF-II auction. While urban and suburban America continue to see improvements in mobile service, many rural areas continue to be dead zones. We cannot leave these areas behind. From precision agriculture to the sharing economy, mobile broadband is critical to rural America.”
While closing this “digital divide” through fiber-based broadband deployment is important, other technologies, such as 5G mobile networks will also be vital in filling in rural access gaps and making sure that rural residents have access to the same connectivity as their suburban and urban peers.
So are we talking about connecting patients to healthcare with a network experience much like our cell phones? Not quite.  
5G is the next step in the evolution of the mobile or cellular networks we use today and was a major theme at this year’s Mobile World Congress—the world’s largest gathering for the mobile industry—held in Barcelona, Spain. Among the 5G-related topics discussed was how 5G could help “to deploy broadband more easily to rural areas.”
5G technology will mean more powerful networks with a greater capacity to move data, and therefore a “faster” internet experience than what has been afforded by the 4G technology in use today. 5G will bring more than ten times the speed we have today with 4G. There have also been advancements in the antennae that emit and receive network signals. These and other network improvements will assist in delivering a higher-quality 5G experience. When fully deployed, 5G mobile technology could be a massive boon to rural communities, especially when it comes to so-called “tele-health care.”
As we approach National Doctor’s Day on March 30th, the National Grange celebrates a day that is working to advocate for ways that doctors can extend their reach to more patients. One way to do so is the use of tele-health.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), tele-health care is “the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support and promote long-distance clinical health care.” Tele-health could be a real game-changer for rural America, which is chronically underserved when it comes to accessing medical services. 
For those today who must travel long distances or invest financial resources that are already scarce to access care, having a consultation via the internet could save significant time and money, enable necessities like follow-up visits, and help with overall peace of mind.
Take, for example, Children's Mercy Kansas City, a hospital where 26 of the hospital’s 47 pediatric specialties are connected through a telemedicine network available to patients across Kansas and Missouri. This network is helping many families connect with medical specialists who would otherwise be hours away and unreachable for many rural and small town residents. 
Fortunately, this is just one example of how 5G-based tele-health care could help improve the lives and health of rural Americans. As the deployment of 5G networks rolls out, we expect many more—and more powerful—health care benefits for our Grange members across the country.
Betsy Huber is the president of National Grange, the nation’s oldest rural and agricultural organization, which celebrates its 150th Anniversary this year.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.