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Libraries could be the next hub for telehealth services

Virtual visits from UVA Health alone rose more than 700% between March and May. However, roughly 300,000 people across the commonwealth do not have high speed internet to support using telehealth services from home.
Libraries could become the new doctors office. (Source: WVIR)
Libraries could become the new doctors office. (Source: WVIR)(Libraries could become the new doctors office. (Source: WVIR))
Published: Oct. 5, 2020 at 3:52 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The COVID-19 pandemic has made it harder for many people, especially those who are more at risk for contracting the virus, to get the in-person care they need. However, new research from the University of Virginia shows that getting healthcare in the middle of a pandemic could be as simple as going to a nearby library.

Pam DeGuzman, a professor and researcher at UVA, says libraries could become a new hub for telehealth services.

“Our research has shown that, right now, we can’t find anyone who’s doing this,” DeGuzman said.

According to UVA Today, virtual visits from UVA Health alone rose more than 700% between March and May. However, roughly 300,000 people across the commonwealth do not have high speed internet to support using telehealth services from home.

“Particularly, in the era of COVID, that becomes a problem because at one point, clinics started doing almost exclusively for non-urgent cases in telemedicine,” DeGuzman explained. “If you didn’t have the ability to get on telemedicine in your home, it would either be very costly for you to do on your phone or you just didn’t do it.”

Many of those who struggle to get internet live in rural areas that require multiple hours of driving to get to their healthcare provider, but the average Virginian lives just 30 minutes away from a library.

“Virtually every library in Virginia and most of them around the country offer free access to WiFi,” DeGuzman explained. “Through our research in this study that we did, virtually all of them offer at least minimum speed that would be sufficient to stream a video visit.”

David Plunkett, director of Jefferson-Madison Regional Library, says most libraries have up-to-date technology, with staff who are trained to use it.

“Our staff are well trained to make use of the new tools they need they need to in order to get access to resources,” Plunkett said.

Although most libraries like JMRL are not offering in-person services just yet, many are starting to allow people to come in and use meeting rooms and computers to get in touch with their doctors.

DeGuzman said UVA researchers are working with libraries now to start a pilot program in several different libraries across central Virginia, so patients can get the medical care they need as safely as possible.

Copyright 2020 WVIR. All rights reserved.

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