The Federal Communications Commission voted to advance a three-year $100 million pilot program to bring telehealth services to low-income patients and veterans.
The commission unanimously approved a provision to move forward and seek comment on the management and implementation of the Connected Care Pilot program including who would be eligible to participate and how to target high-need areas such as Tribal lands and rural areas and high need conditions like opioid dependency, diabetes, heart disease and mental health conditions.
The proposed program would give an 85 percent discount on connectivity for broadband-based telehealth projects that would connect patients to their doctor for services like chronic disease management. Funding for the program would come from the Universal Service Fund which is intended to promote universal access to telecommunications resources.
The Connected Care Pilot goes beyond the agency’s existing initiatives to support broadband access for rural healthcare providers by providing resources to actually connect patients to clinicians. The move has been hailed by telehealth advocates as a major step in validating the use of telemedicine techniques nationally.
“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,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said during the commission’s meeting.
“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.”
The program is the brainchild of FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr who cited results from a VA remote patient monitoring program that was able to save more than $11,000 per patients on the system.
“Given the significant cost savings and improved patient outcomes associated with connected care, we should align public policy in support of this movement in telehealth,” Carr said during the meeting. “It’s the healthcare equivalent of moving from Blockbuster to Netflix.”
Photo: IAN HOOTON, Getty Images