The FCC has presented its National Broadband Plan, which advocates bringing affordable broadband access to more Americans, and also suggests that more broadband can help boost health care IT in the United States. Specifically, the FCC is claiming that increased broadband to physicians and hospitals will help transmit increasingly larger files, such as medical imaging, and will help promote the development of tools such as smartphone applications for physicians and patients.
The Federal Communications Commission is advocating
smartphone applications for physicians, along with increased broadband
connectivity to hospitals and physicians that currently lack the service, as
part of its just-revealed National Broadband Plan. The FCC cites the rising
need for medical professionals to transmit large files, including medical
imaging, as just one reason for its recommendations.
National Broadband Plan advocates bringing affordable broadband access to a
sizable portion of the 93 million Americans
who lack a connection, in the
hope that such an action will bring the United States more in line with other
countries that enjoy broader broadband adoption. The FCC and its executives
have spent the past few weeks suggesting that such a plan would translate into
concrete societal and economic benefits.
As detailed by the plan, some of those benefits include more
advanced health care IT. The full text of the Health Care chapter of the report
can be found here.
"Broadband is not a panacea," reads the chapter. "However,
there is a developing set of broadband-enabled solutions that can play an
important role in the transformation required to address these issues. These
solutions, usually grouped under the name health information technology, offer
the potential to improve health care outcomes while simultaneously controlling
costs and extending the reach of the limited pool of health care
The National Broadband Plan recommends that "appropriate
incentives" be created for the use of e-care technologies by the health care
industry, including "new payment platforms to drive adoption of applications
proven to be effective" and the promotion of pilot projects for those
"Large-scale private pilots of e-care such as the Connected
Care Telehealth Program in Colorado and the Community Partnerships and Mobile
Telehealth to Transform Research in Elder Care should similarly consult with
HHS [Health and Human Services] and share valuable lessons learned," the report
reads. "For pilots that meet HHS's data collection standards, Congress should
consider tax breaks or other incentives."
The Plan also advocates "modernizing regulation" with regard
to technology solutions such as electronic prescribing, as well as having the
FCC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approve the use of mobile
applications for health monitoring and physician decision-making. Its
hypothetical examples include smartphone applications for medical imaging or
real-time patient data.
The FCC cites Google and Amazon as companies that have
utilized massive amounts of data into technologies or initiatives to further
their goals, a model that the organization believes can be equally applied to
the healthcare industry in areas such as better treatment evaluations, enhanced
public health, "empowered consumers" and improved policy decisions. In order
for that data to be easily collected and aggregated, however, the Office of the
National Coordinator for Health Information Technology should "establish common
standards and protocols for sharing administrative, research and clinical data,
and provide incentives for their use."
According to the FCC's numbers, some 3,600 "small
physicians" operate in areas that lack mass-market broadband availability,
along with 26 percent of critical access hospitals, 29 percent of rural health
clinics, and 33 percent of IHS (Indian Health Service) locations. Moreover, the
organization insists, these physicians and institutions will need an increasing
amount of broadband in coming years in order to transmit large files such as 3D
images; the National Broadband Plan estimates that single-physician practices
currently need 4 megabits per second, while large medical centers require up to
1,000 megabits per second.
To help alleviate this situation, the FCC is recommending
that an existing Internet Access Fund be replaced with a Health Care Broadband
Access Fund, and that a Health Care Broadband Infrastructure Fund be
established to subsidize broadband for health care locations.
Any such broad-based plan, however, will doubtlessly
initiate several rounds of jockeying between government, telecommunications
companies, and private industry. In January, AT&T told the FCC that it
would need to ditch its land-line infrastructure in order to help Congress meet
its goal of extending broadband access to the entire American populace; one can
surmise that health care companies, confronted with these FCC recommendations,
may use the opportunity to push forward their own requirements. The FCC has
also signaled that it may expand its regulatory powers over Internet service, a
move that carriers ranging from AT&T to Verizon and Time Warner Cable have
all protested as detrimental to their ability to invest in broadband networks.