Biotechnology and Culture: Bodies, Anxieties, Ethics

By Paul E. Brodwin | Go to book overview

Chapter 11
Reach Out and Heal Someone
Rural Telemedicine and the Globalization
of U. S. Health Care

LISA CARTWRIGHT

Here is a “vision of the future” offered by the National Information Infrastructure (NII) Task Force Committee in 1994:

In a rural area, a child awakens with severe coughing, fever, and a rash on
her chest. Her mother dials the interactive telecommunication connection
to access medical care support and describes her child. The nurse at the
other end asks for the mother to connect special probes that monitor the
child’s temperature, blood, pulse. She then listens through an electronic
stethoscope to the child’s breathing. She examines the rash through the
high resolution telecommunications viewer. After consulting information
through the NII about recent health events reported in the community,
such as the incidence of measles, bacterial and viral infections, she recom-
mends action to the mother.1 (“Health Care”)

Osteopaths Christopher Simpson and Martha A. Simpson note that rural residents tend to have a higher unemployment rate, are more likely to be poor, are apt to have higher rates of chronic disease, and are less likely to have health insurance when compared to their urban counterparts.2 These facts, combined with knowledge that many rural areas in the United States do not have strong enough economies to sustain hospitals and medical practices, much less well-equipped ones, make it difficult to conjure up an image of a rural home equipped with an electronic stethoscope and highresolution telecommunications viewer (Simpson and Simpson 502–8; McCarthy 111–30). Unsurprisingly, a recent U.S. Department of Commerce survey of telecommunications technology access in American households reports that rural homes are least likely to have computers. Within this group, poor households rank lowest in terms of computer penetration (4.5 percent) and—among those with computers—modem penetration (23.6 percent), even as compared to poor households in central cities (7.6 percent and 43.9 percent). Moreover, if the rural family in question happens to be Native American or black, chances of their having a computer and modem are further diminished (U.S. Department of Commerce). These

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