FCC to hire healthcare director, step up health efforts

By Brian Dolan

Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsThe Federal Communications Commission (FCC) held a public briefing this week with its mHealth Task Force, which formed just this past June to work with various other healthcare professionals and technologists to create a report full of "concrete" next steps that the FCC (and other agencies) can take to facilitate the adoption and acceleration of mHealth in the United States. The task force co-chairs are Julian Goldman, Medical Director of Biomedical Engineering, Partners Healthcare System; Robert Jarrin, Senior Director of Government Affairs, Qualcomm; and Douglas Trauner, CEO, TheCarrot.com.

The task force's report, which it made public this week, offers about two dozen recommendations for the FCC, including the suggestion that the commission hire a permanent director of healthcare.

The report outlines five macro goals that it suggests the FCC take on and breaks out the more than two dozen specific suggestions under these:

Goal 1: FCC should continue to play a leadership role in advancing mobile health adoption.
Goal 2: Federal agencies should increase collaboration to promote innovation, protect patient safety, and avoid regulatory duplication.
Goal 3: The FCC should build on existing programs and link programs when possible in order to expand broadband access for healthcare.
Goal 4: The FCC should continue efforts to increase capacity, reliability, interoperability, and RF safety of mHealth technologies.
Goal 5: Industry should support continued investment, innovation, and job creation in the growing mobile health sector.

Under the first goal, the task force recommends that the FCC fill its open position for a healthcare director.

During his remarks, FCC Julius Genachowski recognized the West Health Institute's director of public policy Kerry McDermott who was in attendance at the briefing. McDermott previously led the FCC's healthcare efforts and helped Mo Kaushal and Spencer Hutchins write the healthcare chapter in the FCC's National Broadband Plan. Following the National Broadband Plan's publication all three of them left the FCC to join the then-named West Wireless Health Institute. Last summer the American Telemedicine Association published an open letter to the FCC criticizing the agency for going "silent" on healthcare since the publication of its National Broadband Plan. In its letter the ATA also noted "the departure of every key professional staff from the Commission involved in healthcare policy."

The task force also recommends that the FCC other agencies should improve educational outreach activities to healthcare organizations; launch a healthcare website; and establish the task force as a formal interagency external working group.

Under its second goal for the FCC and other agencies, the task force suggests that the FCC work with other agencies to develop a standard, overarching definition for mHealth and other eCare technologies so the discussion can get beyond confusion around terms and onto more productive topics. It also suggests that the FCC work with ONC on some meaningful use provisions, including secure health messaging and communication standards. The task force also recommends that the Secretary of HHS convene a formal working group as permitted under the recent FDA modernization act, which passed Congress earlier this year.

Under its third goal, the task force asks the FCC to expand awareness for the Rural Health Care program and explore whether wireless technology should be better leveraged by that program. The FCC should also let consortiums of healthcare providers apply to the Rural Health Care program instead of just individual healthcare facilities. The FCC's Lifeline program should also support fixed and mobile broadband services and as the program adds that level of connectivity the FCC should add healthcare services to it.

On the spectrum allocation front, the group recommends that the FCC continue to allocate wireless spectrum to meet overall needs, but the FCC should also work with international regulators like those in Mexico to help harmonize spectrum allocations across borders to ensure wireless-enabled medical devices and services work cross-borders. The FCC should also help create wireless test beds for new healthcare devices and modify SAR testing requirements for medical devices, according to the group.

Interestingly, the group also suggests that the FCC evaluate and make recommendations about issues surrounding affordable connectivity and compatibility with home telehealth devices, which sometimes require access technologies like broadband that are not installed in the home.

Finally, the task force recommends that the industry adopts standards for the transmission of authenticated health information, offers secure and trusted APIs for connecting third party devices into EHRs and HIEs, works to accelerate mobile health through public-private partnerships like the task force itself.