FCC & Telecom

 

Telehealth is a way to provide millions of Americans, living in remote, rural and underserved areas access to health care services.  However, if telehealth is to reach its full potential and transform the way health care is administered, providers must have access to fast, reliable internet connections.  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recognized the importance of making fast, reliable internet connections available to all health care providers.  The FCC’s National Broadband Plan recognizes that universal broadband access will play an integral part of improving health care delivery.

The ultimate goal of the National Broadband Plan is to ensure that all Americans have broadband access by 2020.  This goal has myriad implications for telemedicine because broadband internet connectivity is a cornerstone to the utilization of telemedicine.  According to the FCC’s National Broadband Plan Executive Summary, “Broadband can help improve the quality and lower the cost of health care through health IT and improved data capture and use, which will enable clearer understanding of the most effective treatments and processes.”

The Broadband Plan also states, health IT (of which telemedicine and telehealth are a part) will play a key role in improving the health of the American population and in improving health care delivery.  The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), explained in the Electronic Health Record Incentive Program Proposed Rule (75 Fed. Reg. 1851 [Jan. 13, 2010]) that the Department has prioritized the following goals in the upcoming years:

“improving care quality, safety, efficiency and reducing disparities, engaging patients and families in managing their health, enhancing care coordination, improving population and public health and ensuring adequate privacy and security of health information.”  The Plan notes that health IT can support these goals by “dramatically improving the collection, presentation and exchange of health care information, and by providing clinicians and consumers the tools to transform care.” While conceding that by itself, “technology cannot heal,” the Plan argues that when “appropriately incorporated into care, technology can help health care professionals and consumers make better decisions, become more efficient, engage in innovation, and understand both individual and public health more effectively.”