new report questions whether rural communities, which could benefit the most from telehealth, have the broadband capabilities to support it or to attract new healthcare business.

Prepared by consultant Craig Settles in partnership with the International Economic Development Council, the report indicates two-thirds of economic developers surveyed say their broadband conditions “are not great for producing healthcare-related outcomes that can help communities attract and retain both individuals and businesses.”

Telehealth and telemedicine aren’t being taken seriously enough, the report suggests, either as a means of improving the community’s well-being or making it more attractive for new residents and healthcare-related development.

The IEDC’s “Community Broadband Snapshot Report” surveyed 242 senior executives, managers are staff members of economic development agencies or departments in local or county governments, as well as some consultants and managers of non-profits. The 29-page reported covered a broad variety of broadband uses, including education and business, net neutrality issues and differences between community-owned and privately owned broadband services, and rated healthcare as “the sleeping economic giant.”

[See also: New breed of ‘exchange’ emerging as care coordination hub.]

According to the survey, only 32 percent believe their community’s Internet speeds and services are sufficient to attract new doctors or medical professionals, while 30 percent feel they’re sufficient to attract medical research grants. Only 23 percent, meanwhile, say they have sufficient broadband capabilities to monitor seniors’ medical conditions at home, 34 percent feel they have enough to enable medical facilities to exchange video files with other cities, and only 27 percent say they have enough capability to enable doctor-to-patient video conferences.

Those surveyed were also asked if medical professionals are included in community broadband planning. In all, 26 percent said they are involved, 1 percent said they’re leading the broadband effort and another 18 percent said they will participate when the community moves forward with broadband planning. On the flip said, almost 28 percent answered no, and about 28 percent said they weren’t sure.

Finally, the report found that less than half of those surveyed – 43 percent – see broadband-driven healthcare and medical services delivery as important to economic development.

In the report, Settles offered two communities – Danville, Va., and Loma Linda, Calif. – as examples of how “broadband-driven healthcare and medical services can impact local economies.” Both use broadband to link hospitals, doctors’ offices, clinics and other medical services together – and in turn with other facilities in the country.

“By uniting all these resources on a single network, each city created a ‘super’ medical care delivery system that their economic developers use as a major lure for new companies,” he said.

In his conclusion, Settles questions whether community leaders understand how broadband can affect the economy.

“Much work must be done to educate economic developers about the ways broadband-driven education and healthcare delivery influence the economy,” he wrote. “The survey shows that economic developers understand how the technology influences the various outcomes listed. But do community stakeholders understand that to achieve broadband’s full potential impact in education, healthcare delivery and startup generation, homes need access to high-speed broadband?”