FCC Seeks Input on Broadband Health Care Initiative

April 24, 2017–The FCC is seeking input for the ongoing efforts of its Connect2Health initiative, asking, in a 25-page public notice, for comment on ways in which the FCC can further the seven objectives of the initiative, as well as on the source of authority for FCC action in these areas. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced last month that the Connect2HealthFCC Task Force, which was established by former Chairman Tom Wheeler in 2014, would continue its work during his chairmanship, and that Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn would continue to lead the effort (TR Daily, March 16).

The objectives outlined in today’s public notice are “promoting effective policy and regulatory solutions that encourage broadband adoption and promote health IT”;  “identifying regulatory barriers (and incentives) to the deployment of radio frequency (RF)-enabled advanced health care technologies and devices”; “strengthening the nation’s telehealth infrastructure through the FCC’s Rural Health Care  Program and other initiatives”; “raising consumer awareness about the value proposition of broadband in the health care  sector and its potential for addressing health care disparities”; “enabling the development of broadband-enabled health technologies that are designed to be fully accessible to people with disabilities”; “highlighting effective telehealth projects, broadband-enabled health technologies, and mHealth applications across the country and abroad—to identify lessons learned, best practices, and regulatory challenges”; and  “engaging a diverse array of traditional and non-traditional stakeholders to identify emerging  issues and opportunities in the broadband health space.”

For example, among the questions the public notice poses regarding policy and regulatory solutions to encourage broadband adoption and promote health IT are “What efforts are being made at the state and local levels to address broadband health technology accessibility issues in rural and remote areas, Tribal lands, and underserved urban areas?  We seek specific information, particularly from states, localities, Tribal governments, and rural and urban medical centers, about any broadband -enabled health IT programs that have been developed and implemented (or will soon be implemented) to reach these areas.  How successful have those programs been?  What are some of the lessons learned in developing those programs?  What programs and other efforts are necessary to drive attention to those rural and underserved populations that need health technologies most?  How can the Commission better facilitate the deployment of services and technologies as well as consumer adoption in those areas?”

It asks whether the “regulatory framework for the Rural Health Care program [is] keeping pace with how broadband-enabled health care is being delivered in rural and underserved areas?  If not, please explain in detail, describing any emerging challenges, gaps or opportunities for using broadband to better meet the health and health care needs of rural consumers.”  It also asks if there are “other initiatives or actions beyond the RHC Program that the agency, or the Task Force on behalf of the agency, could pursue in order to promote and help enable the adoption and availability of broadband-enabled health technologies in rural and underserved areas of the country?”

The public notice notes, “Among other things, the Task Force is charged with charting the broadband future of ‘health and care’ in order to ensure that the agency stays ahead of the health technology curve.   We use the phrase ‘health and care’ deliberately in this Public Notice to reflect and include the broad range of participants in the emerging broadband health ecosystem, including providers (e.g., health systems, community health centers, clinicians, pharmacists, nutritionists, allied health professionals); public health and social service agencies and organizations; innovators and entrepreneurs; academic and research facilities; state and local policymakers; patients and their caregivers; as well as consumers who seek support to prevent disease and maintain optimum health.”

In a statement, Commissioner Clyburn said, “Today, the Federal Communications Commission takes an important step in advancing the mission of the Connect2HealthFCC Task Force. Through the release of this Public Notice, the Commission seeks information on how we can help enable the adoption and accessibility of broadband-enabled health care solutions, especially in rural and other underserved areas of the country. I thank Chairman Pai for continuing his commitment to the Task Force and Commissioner O’Rielly for his support of the item.”

Commissioner Clyburn added, “The emerging broadband health ecosystem includes health care providers, public health and social service agencies, innovators and entrepreneurs, academic and research facilities, state and local policymakers, patients and their caregivers, as well as fixed and wireless broadband companies. I encourage entities from each of these sectors to provide us with detailed comments. As the Task Force’s Beyond the Beltway series reaffirmed, we benefit the most when all relevant stakeholders collaborate to bridge health disparities. By working together, I know we can narrow the digital and opportunities divide to ensure much needed health and wellness solutions reach all Americans.”

Comments in response to the public notice are due May 4 in Wireline Competition docket 10-90; reply comments are due May 11. —Lynn Stanton, lynn.stanton@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily