2: Closing the Digital Divide: The Role of Healthcare in Connecting Patients to the Affordable Connectivity Program

In today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape, access to the internet has become a necessity for many daily activities. Whether it be for remote learning, telehealth, or simply staying connected with loved ones, the internet has become an indispensable tool for millions of people. Yet, despite its significance, not everyone has access to the internet.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently reported that 12.9 million American households have enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), a national initiative aimed at providing low-cost internet access to eligible households. While this is a step in the right direction, there are still 38 million eligible American households who have yet to enroll in the program.

In an era where internet access is considered a basic human right, healthcare professionals have a critical role to play in bridging the digital divide and linking patients with the ACP. Consider these sobering statistics: almost one in four Americans do not have a reliable home internet connection, and nearly 40% of adults over 65 do not own a smartphone. The disparities in internet access are even more pronounced in communities of color, where only 58% of Black Americans and 57% of Hispanic Americans own a computer, compared to 82% of White Americans.

Fortunately, there are organizations that are working to close the digital divide, and healthcare providers can play an instrumental role in their efforts. Link Health, for example, is a healthcare-focused initiative that helps enroll low-income patients into the ACP program. Launched at Massachusetts General Hospital in November 2022, Link Health provides free resources for healthcare providers to enroll patients, including in-person sign-up events, informational posters and handouts for waiting areas, and incorporating ACP enrollment information into discharge paperwork.

With less than 25% of eligible households enrolled in the ACP, there is still much work to be done to connect the dots and bridge the digital divide. Healthcare providers can play a critical role in this effort by leveraging their trusted relationships with patients and utilizing free resources like Link Health to enroll eligible patients in the ACP. By working together, we can help ensure that every patient has access to the internet and all the benefits that come with it.