We can’t wait to fix the challenges primary care is facing

Posted 7/5/23

With decades of experience supporting pediatric primary care needs, from birth to an adolescent’s transition out of pediatric care, I’ve seen first-hand how important it is to meet …

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We can’t wait to fix the challenges primary care is facing

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With decades of experience supporting pediatric primary care needs, from birth to an adolescent’s transition out of pediatric care, I’ve seen first-hand how important it is to meet families where they are in every life stage. The COVID-19 pandemic proved exactly how important the expanded use of telehealth has been to improving patient care.

At my pediatric practice in Cranston, offering care through telehealth has the advantage of fewer missed appointments, less cancellations for reasons like bad weather, and the added convenience for families traveling a distance for follow-up appointments (this is Rhode Island, after all).

As an initial skeptic, I now recognize how helpful these technology tools can be – providing an accessible setting where the emphasis is on conversing about a child’s care. In a world where mental health conditions have been exacerbated by the pandemic, being able to easily and accessibly converse with patients and their families is important. It’s clear the primary care industry can use this technology to bolster our work in supporting patients, not replace it.

Aside from staffing and employee management challenges in the wake of a shrinking workforce, our industry has another obstacle in its path. For the first time ever, the Federal Communications Commission’s ability to authorize more licensed spectrum radio waves has stopped. These are the invisible radio waves that connect us to cellular networks and wireless 5G powered internet access – what’s needed to make telehealth tools possible – and they’re at a standstill in Congress. If this lapse continues it will hinder the use of these next generation networks, impacting consumers, patients, health professionals and students who rely on this technology in their daily lives.

High-powered licensed spectrum provides internet to our whole state, from my pediatric primary care practice right here in Cranston to businesses and households in every corner of Rhode Island. This lets us use mobile apps, browse the web, and communicate from a distance wherever we have cellular coverage.

Our congressional leaders have the power to reauthorize this authority and ensure we have a pipeline of future spectrum waves to meet our 21st century needs. This is absolutely necessary for industries like primary care as we work to ensure all families can access the care they need when they need it. As these online deliveries of service become even more commonplace in society, everyone must recognize more and more that telehealth tools are an important part of that equation.

Reliable internet is crucial, and the primary care industry can’t wait. As telehealth tools become part of the bigger conversation around ways to address our primary care workforce crisis, we must also address this hurdle that will ultimately bog down innovation surrounding these tools. All Rhode Island families deserve access to care and access to reliable internet that supports their needs.

Dr. Richard Ohnmacht is a practicing pediatrician based in Cranston.