Ready for LAUNCH: Bridging the Digital Divide to Improve Cancer Care

February 15, 2019


Dr. Robin Vanderpool, associate professor of Health, Behavior & Society and director of Community Outreach and Engagement at the UK HealthCare Markey Cancer Center, is leading a project to help bridge the broadband health connectivity gap in Appalachia. “LAUNCH (Linking & Amplifying User-Centered Networks through Connected Health): A Demonstration of Broadband-Enabled Health for Rural Populations in Appalachia” will target areas that face the dual challenges of higher cancer mortality rates and lower levels of broadband access.  The initial geographic focus is planned for rural Kentucky.


According to the CDC, rural Americans are still more likely to die from cancer than their urban counterparts. The situation is particularly acute in Appalachia, where cancer “hotspots” are often overlaid with gaps in broadband service. This means that the promises of 21st century connected care are out of reach for many Appalachian regions already struggling with high cancer diagnosis and mortality rates.  


“Research suggests that when patients report symptoms electronically to their care providers they are almost twice as likely to report improvements to health-related quality of life than those in a disconnected control group,” said Dr. Bradford Hesse, chief, Health Communication and Informatics Research Branch, National Cancer Institute.  “Electronically connected patients were also less likely to be admitted to the emergency room and had greater survival rates than patients in the control group. Collaborating with the FCC is a vital step for improving cancer outcomes for all Americans, regardless of where they live.”


"Kentucky leads the nation in cancer incidence, and it's our responsibility here at the UK College of Public Health and the Markey Cancer Center to help reduce the burdens of cancer on our citizens," said Vanderpool. "This collaboration will allow us to connect an underserved population to resources that can help patients manage the symptoms that accompany cancer treatment and beyond, ultimately leading to an improved quality of life."


LAUNCH is the first project under a memorandum of understanding signed by the Federal Communications Commission’s Connect2Health Task Force and the National Cancer Institute, focused on the ways in which increasing broadband access and adoption in rural areas can improve the lives of rural cancer patients. Highlighting the power of public-private partnerships, current project stakeholders include cancer experts, researchers, technologists and industry representatives from UKCPH, the UK Markey Cancer Center, Amgen, and the University of California, San Diego.



The University of Kentucky College of Public Health is a catalyst of positive change for population health, with a mission to develop health champions, conduct multidisciplinary and applied research, and collaborate with partners to improve health in Kentucky and beyond.