Marshfield Medical Center, Rice Lake, 2021 Community Benefit

Increasing Broadband Access to Rural Communities

Marshfield Clinic Health System is increasing access to health care by directly investing in broadband access in rural communities.
In March of 2020, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a series of waivers that allowed the expanded use of telehealth to address the COVID-19 Pandemic. In June 2020, just three months into the pandemic, Seema Verma, then CMS administrator said, "I think the genie's out of the bottle on this one. I think it's fair to say that the advent of telehealth has been just completely accelerated, that it’s taken this crisis to push us to a new frontier, but there's absolutely no going back."  
Although Marshfield Clinic Health System (MCHS) has used telehealth since 1997 to reach rural and underserved populations, the COVID-19 pandemic caused volumes to increase dramatically overnight. In 2020, MCHS completed nearly 150,000 telehealth visits, up from 15,000 in 2019—a 1,000% increase.
For many patients, access to broadband was a barrier to participating in a telehealth visit, according to Chris Meyer, director of telehealth for MCHS. 
“Nearly 60% of those visits needed to be completed via phone,” reports Meyer. “This underscores the lack of broadband in rural areas of Wisconsin.”
Since 2018, MCHS has worked with the communities they serve to offer assistance in broadband expansion efforts. In addition to writing over 50 letters of support for Broadband Access grants through the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, MCHS provides financial contributions towards the completion of awarded projects. Since 2018, MCHS has contributed $107,825 toward eight separate projects that expanded broadband in the communities we serve.
“Overcoming this barrier for our patients is central to our mission to ‘Enrich lives to create healthy communities through accessible, affordable, compassionate health care’,” said Meyer.