Is broadband a social determinant of health? Prominent health care leaders, practitioners, and researchers came together last week in Detroit to answer that question during a discussion that I co-moderated with Federal Communications Commissioner (FCC) Mignon Clyburn. The FCC Connect2Health Task Force’s Broadband Health Tech Forum was part of its “Beyond the Beltway” series, which is encouraging efforts to improve healthcare in communities across the nation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), your zip code is a greater indicator of your health than your genetic code. Why? The quality and availability of care is vastly different based on where you live.

Low-income Americans are at a distinct disadvantage for managing chronic diseases, for example. Heart disease and diabetes are among the top 10 causes of death in the African-American community, and Latinos are challenged by a 66 percent higher rate of diabetes than Caucasians. Thankfully, there’s consensus that technology can go a long way toward closing the health divide.

The digital divide is directly linked to the health divide. Without Internet connectivity, people lack the tools that they need to become educated on critical health issues, to find nearby healthcare providers, and to take advantage of the exciting health applications and tools that are available. While some Americans with diabetes are using Internet-connected devices like AgaMatrix to monitor blood glucose, others are left in the dark. Broadband empowers underserved populations to take charge of their health.

One panelist pointed out that the digital divide is creating health problems in unexpected ways. Many Americans who lack broadband at home are going to the local McDonald’s to use the Internet. To do so, they’re required to purchase at least one item. Imagine how your health would be impacted if you were drinking super-sized soft drinks and eating Big Macs every time you wanted to check your email.

During the discussion in Detroit, Commissioner Clyburn emphasized the importance of adding broadband to the federal Lifeline program as part of the Commission’s reform efforts. Making the subsidy available for high-speed Internet will help close the digital divide and – bonus – concurrently shrink the health divide. Modernizing the Lifeline program is a key to improving access to health care services, regardless of socio-economic background or geographic location.

The goal of the Broadband Health Tech Forum in Detroit was to start a critical conversation that translates into action – and it appears that the event did just that. Panelists and audience members alike were inspired, vowing to stay connected and work together toward solutions. Broadband is a social determinant of health. In fact, it’s foundational for health equity.

To read more about the event, check out this article from Crain’s Detroit: “FCC task force visits Detroit to discuss health care tech innovations.”