CONTINUING COVERAGE: FLOODS OF 2016

Iowans Who Can’t Get to the Doctor Could See One From Home Under Plan

NEWTON, Iowa -- It's a challenging problem for state and national leaders: How can you connect rural families, particularly older people, with the technology that could make accessing health care information and professionals easier?

That was the topic for a round table discussion Tuesday at Skiff Medical Center in Newton. Skiff already uses broadband for patient care. A medical professional from the Mercy network in Des Moines can talk through the Iowa Communications Network to patients in rural facilities, where specialists may not be available.

Mercy already uses broadband to connect with rural facilities. Here's a map of the facilities.

"There's 29 million Americans living with diabetes," Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel told the audience. "How many of them live in areas that have access to high-speed broadband?"

Rosenworcel explained that her agency doesn't have the answer to that yet. But she wonders whether expanded broadband access to link people with the medical professionals and answers to reduce that  number.

Second District Congressman Dave Loebsack, a Democrat, has pushed legislation to expand access to long-term care facilities. He sees it as both a medical and social benefit to patients.

"Families want to Facetime with Grandma," he said, noting the importance of staying connected with families.

Iowa lawmakers have tried the past few years to come up with incentives to expand broadband access but have failed to find agreement on the funding mechanism to do it.

They have set up a framework.

The FCC recently released this interactive mapping software to view broadband and health care access.