Healthcare providers around the country began implementing telehealth services seemingly the instant the COVID-19 crisis began to trigger statewide shutdowns in the United States. However, Americans who don’t have access to technology or the Internet can’t take advantage of safe virtual care. Centene Corporation has announced a new partnership with Samsung Electronics America to supply providers and patients in rural and underserved areas with free devices so they can receive remote health services.

For the 81% of Americans who have a cell phone, virtual health appointments are fairly easy to set up. But lack of access to technology or the Internet has forced many residents of underserved communities to delay both preventive and necessary appointments. People living in rural areas already have an increased risk of hospitalization due to a preventable condition, and have generally higher mortality rates. Delayed care due to the pandemic may have exacerbated these risks and affected outcomes for some rural COVID-19 patients.

Centene Corporation, a community-centered managed care enterprise that focuses on the under- and uninsured, will deliver 13,000 Samsung Galaxy A 10e smartphones to roughly 200 providers, federally qualified health centers, and community organizations for distribution to individuals in need of remote care. The initiative includes 90 days of free wifi service for each phone; it will also give tablets to some providers, enabling them to offer telehealth services.

Earlier in the pandemic, Centene Corporation partnered with the National Association of Community Health Centers to create a Medicaid telehealth initiative. This initiative helped federally qualified health centers respond to the COVID-19 crisis by accelerating the availability of telehealth programs.

Telehealth visits are now expected to reach one billion by the end of 2020 in the U.S. alone. Both Samsung and Centene hope their partnership will help vulnerable communities keep up with this increased demand brought about by the pandemic.