July 12, 2019
As telehealth continues to grow increasingly popular among both patients and providers, flaws with accessibility, specifically the lack of high-speed internet connections, have come to light. Addressing the challenge, the Federal Communications Committee (FCC) has proposed the establishment of a 3-year, $100 million Connected Care Pilot program.
The pilot program’s goal would be to bring telehealth services directly to low-income patients, veterans, and patients in rural areas, per the FCC press release, by providing an 85% discount on connectivity for broadband-enabled telehealth services.
Telehealth utilization has been steadily on the rise, providing access to effective services and treatment of chronic conditions outside of a clinical setting, saving both patients and health care providers on costs.
As part of the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, approved by the Commission, the agency is requesting comments on the testing of the pilot program. According to the press release, the pilot will use the FCC’s existing “Rural Health Care Program authority [to] defray the costs of purchasing broadband Internet access service necessary for providing connected care services directly to low-income patients and veterans.”
Categories in which the FCC is requesting feedback include:
- Ensuring the program funding remains separate to avoid impact on the budgets for existing Universal Service Programs—Lifeline, Rural Health Care, E-Rate, and High-Cost (rural broadband support);
- Determining eligible pilot participants;
- Limiting the pilot to certain geographic and demographic locations;
- Targeting rural, low-income, veteran, Tribal, and areas where known health care disparities exist;
- Targeting support of the most notable, crisis-level health conditions like opioid dependency, diabetes, heart disease, mental health, and high risk pregnancy.
The FCC will use data collected to analyze the benefits the program could provide. "The future of healthcare is connected care, and this is the future that I want the FCC to support," agency Chairman Ajit Pai said at an open meeting. "The $100 million budget we propose for the Connected Care Pilot program is a smart investment for us and for the country."
Federal Communications Commission. FCC seeks comment on proposed $100 million connected care pilot program [press release]. July 10, 2019. https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/DOC-358399A1.pdf. Accessed July 12, 2019.