FCC advances, seeks public comment on $100M rural telehealth pilot

The FCC’s Connected Care Pilot Program — a three-year, $100 million telehealth initiative that was first proposed last summer — took another step toward fruition yesterday with the commission’s unanimous vote to advance and seek public comment on the project.

Alongside general questions on the program’s budgeting, duration and structure, the new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is searching for guidance on how best to address challenges specific to the end goal of connecting rural patients to care. Examples of these issues include how best to target support for veteran populations or those living in Tribal lands; whether the pilot should be limited to understaffed providers; and how the program can address opioid dependency, diabetes, mental health disease and other high-volume health conditions.

WHY IT MATTERS

The FCC’s pilot would offer a major discount to providers establishing a broadband-based telehealth programs, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement, and improve care for those facing geographic barriers to tech-enabled care.

“Telehealth lets doctors remotely monitor and treat many conditions, especially chronic ones like diabetes, opioid dependency, high-risk pregnancies, heart disease, and cancer, without all the back-and-forth travel,” he said. “By supporting health care providers’ investments in telehealth, the Connected Care Pilot program could extend the patient–doctor relationship beyond the hospital and help bridge both the digital and health care divides.”

Beyond laying the groundwork for new services, a successful rollout of the pilot would also be a major win for telehealth advocates seeking proof of the modality’s large-scale viability.

Telehealth set for big boost with $100M in new funding from FCC

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr has announced the agency will vote to advance a $100 million Connected Care Pilot Program, enabling telehealth expansion for low-income Americans nationwide. WHY IT MATTERS Speaking in rural Laurel Fork, Virginia, Carr announced that the new funding is meant to increase access to care to patients and veterans in remote areas such as Appalachia. Speaking in rural Laurel Fork, Virginia, Carr announced that the new funding is meant to increase access to care to patients and veterans in remote areas such as Appalachia.

“With advances in telemedicine, healthcare is no longer limited to the confines of traditional brick and mortar healthcare facilities,” said Carr in a statement. “I think the FCC should support this new trend towards connected care, which is the healthcare equivalent of moving from Blockbuster to Netflix. That’s why the FCC will vote to advance my $100 million pilot program at our July 10 meeting.”

He added that the program will “focus on ensuring that low-income Americans and veterans can access this technology, particularly in rural communities like Laurel Fork, where the nearest hospital is in a different state, access to telehealth can make a life-saving difference.”

FCC is set to vote on a notice of proposed rulemaking next month that will seek comment on several potential provisions, including $100 million in Universal Service Fund support that will help rural providers to defray the cost of offering remote care to low-income patients, including people in medically underserved areas and veterans.

The NPRM would also seek support for new pilot projects to seek innovation diabetes management, the opioid crisis, high-risk pregnancies, pediatric heart disease and cancer, according to the FCC. It would also offer an 85 percent discount on qualifying services for three years, along with efforts to assess the benefits, costs and savings enabled by telehealth and remote monitoring tools.

Telehealth is past the 'tipping point' – how's it doing with interoperability?

A new survey from the American Telemedicine Association assesses the current state of data exchange standards for remote care and offers best practices for health systems looking to capitalize on its potential. As the American Telemedicine Association annual conference kicks off in New Orleans this week, the organization has published a white paper focused on the status of telehealth interoperability.

WHY IT MATTERS The opportunities and challenges for healthcare stakeholders include standards, governance and workflows as telehealth, which “has passed the tipping point of market momentum,” gains traction nationwide, according to the ATA’s report Telehealth Interoperability: Driving Choice, Continuity, and Scale.

The promise is immense, but big hurdles still remain before it reaches its full potential.

“In many cases, telehealth clinical services and settings are fragmented and data is siloed, with low-volume telehealth services such as those for specific locations or clinical specialties standing alone rather than being designed as part of a larger, integrated system,” according to the ATA.

“As these fragmented systems proliferate, they result in costly, redundant software infrastructure and endpoints that limit the potential to improve overall quality and access to care,” researchers wrote. “These fragmented systems also make it difficult for payers (government agencies, private insurers, and employers) to gain access to the comprehensive member data needed for claims and utilization management systems, and add to the challenges of performance tracking, reimbursement, and incentives.”