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.
THE LARGER TREND
During an address at last year’s Connected Health Conference in Boston, Pai spoke about his hopes for the Connected Care Pilot, as well as on the commission’s decision to increase the spending cap on the longstanding rural healthcare program. Last month, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr voiced his own support for the program in preparation for yesterday’s vote.
ON THE RECORD
“The future of health care is connected care. And this is a future I want the FCC to support. The $100 million budget we’ve proposed for the Connected Care Pilot program is a smart investment,” Pai said. “It will deliver a lot of value to American consumers and won’t divert resources from existing USF programs. And I believe it will better inform our understanding of how telemedicine can be used, save costs, and improve health outcomes.”