Can broadband really save healthcare?

By Brian Dolan
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Can broadband really save healthcare? So asks a recent column from HealthLeaders, which parsed apart the healthcare related chapter in the FCC's recently published National Broadband Plan. (Check out excerpts from the plan that we published here, here and here.) HealthLeaders points out that technology alone is not the answer to healthcare's woes -- an oft sung song that, we admit, deserves an encore from time to time. Here's a snippet from the HL column:

"Here's just one example of how technology solves problems, raises new issues, and leaves still others unresolved. One exclamation point-filled sidebar in the report is titled 'Stroke Victim Makes Full Recovery—Thanks to e-Care' and it tells the story of a 49-year-old woman who was connected by video to a specialist at a Boston hospital. The specialist made the right diagnosis, which allowed him to choose the right course of treatment—and the result was a good outcome."

"What's wrong with that picture is everything you don't see: How or whether the specialist was compensated for his time, the time and money it took to create video- and data-sharing capabilities between the two hospitals, the fact that hospitals that share data in this manner have to agree upon a compatible platform, and the number of hospitals that aren't spending the time and money on this type of program, just for starters."

Hard to disagree, but the FCC points out many of these issues, too, and suggests ways that other agencies and branches of government can work toward fixing them, like reforming Medicare and Medicaid practices to include reimbursement for those connected health offerings that have demonstrated efficacy. I was surprised to find passages in the Plan that include suggestions for reimbursement by CMS. While related, that's far from the communications-centered mandate of the FCC. Kudos to them for piping up and to Congress for suggesting the FCC include healthcare information access in the National Broadband Plan.

The FCC's healthcare chapter was impressive for an agency that is tasked with "regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable." Their chapter was understandably tech-focused, but surprisingly insightful and encouraging with suggestions for their less tech-focused counterparts.

For more, read the column over at HealthLeaders