National broadband plan promotes health IT, telemedicine

Plan calls for e-care incentives and regulation

The Federal Communication Commission’s national strategy for broadband issued today emphasizes health care, including electronic health record adoption and use, health data exchanges, telemedicine and mobile health services.

The National Broadband Plan makes 11 recommendations for using high-speed broadband networks to increase the use of electronic health records, health data exchange and telemedicine, or “e-care.”

E-care is defined by the FCC as the electronic exchange of information — data, images and video — help the practice of medicine and advanced analytics. E-care also is referred to as telehealth or telemedicine. When applied in mobile devices, it is sometimes called "MHealth" or "mobile health."

For telemedicine, the FCC also calls for the federal government to expand reimbursements and to remove barriers to adoption by updating regulations to for device approval, credentialing, privileging and licensing.

“Congress and the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) should consider developing a strategy that documents the proven value of e-care technologies, proposes reimbursement reforms that incent their meaningful use and charts a path for their widespread adoption,” the plan states.

The FCC suggests working with the Food and Drug Administration to clarify regulatory requirements and the approval process for “converged” devices that are used both for communications and health care.

The plan has garnered the support of the American Telemedicine Association.

"These changes will greatly improve the quality of care, lower costs and improve access to healthcare to all Americans," said Jonathan Linkous, chief executive of the association. "We encourage Congress and the Administration to approve and implement these recommendations without delay.”

The plan also sees creating a Health Care Broadband Infrastructure Fund to subsidize health care delivery locations where existing networks aren't sufficient. In addition to hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices, the broadband grants should be made available to nursing homes, health care administrative offices, health care data centers and other locations, the plan said.

The FCC also recommended that the Indian Health Service get up to $29 million a year to upgrade its broadband services.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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