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National Broadband Plan and Health Care

By March 17, 2010Commentary

The Federal Communications Commission has released the National Broadband Plan, which contains a chapter on health care. (FCC Report) Chapter Ten addresses health care needs and contains the agency’s recommendations.  The chapter sets the background of increasing use of communication technologies for core health care problems, using examples of chronic disease management, ability to apply scarce physician expertise at a distance and facilitating exchange of patient health information.  The FCC’s suggestions include closer cooperation between itself and the FDA to create a clear regulatory path for telehealth medical devices, which is a very critical area.

As with the suggestion regarding the FDA, many of the recommendations relate to areas over which the FCC has no direct authority.  For example, the report notes that CMS’ reimbursement policies do not encourage the use of telemedicine, in fact probably inhibit it, and asks for changes to those policies.  The FCC also recognizes the inhibitory effect of state and other privileging, credentialing and licensing requirements, and indicates that federal intervention may be required to remove those barriers. Other areas can be directly affected by the agency, such as creation of broadband networks and health exchanges in underserved rural and urban areas.  The agency proposes new funding for those purposes.  The chapter also discusses consumers’ ability to access their health information and privacy concerns.

While this report is not specific on definitive steps which the FCC will take to improve broadband infrastructure for health care uses, the agency is limited to what Congress has given it the funds and authority to do.  Most of the crucial areas to facilitate the growth of communication technology use in health care have been identified, although the chapter does not address the net neutrality concerns that many medical users share.  Government agencies have become very good at writing useful reports, but often slow to follow-up on their own recommendations.  Given the projected growth of telemedicine, mhealth and other communication technology uses in health care, the FCC, FDA and HHS need to find a way to be more responsive.

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