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Published Wednesday, June 19, 2019
by Eric Wicklund

The Federal Communications Commission will soon be voting on a $100 million effort to develop new telehealth and mHealth programs for underserved populations, including rural residents and veterans.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr announced today that the commission will vote on the Connected Care Pilot Program at its July 10 meeting. The announcement was made during Carr’s visit to a rural health clinic in Laurel Fork, VA.

“With advances in telemedicine, health care is no longer limited to the confines of traditional brick and mortar health care facilities,” Carr said. “With an Internet connection, patients can now access high-quality care right on their smartphones, tablets, or other devices regardless of where they are located. I think the FCC should support this new trend towards connected care, which is the healthcare equivalent of moving from Blockbuster to Netflix.”

Carr said the program, unveiled in July 2018, “will focus on ensuring that low-income Americans and veterans can access this technology.”

“The potential benefits of connected care are significant,” he said. “In communities across the country, I’ve seen firsthand how telehealth is lowering costs and improving patient health outcomes. And the relatively limited trials to date are showing significant cost savings. A remote patient monitoring program run by the Veterans Health Administration, for example, cost $1,600 per patient compared to the $13,000 it costs for more traditional care. Another telehealth project in the Northeastern US found that every dollar spent on remote monitoring resulted in a $3.30 return in savings. And a diabetes trial run by the University of Mississippi Medical Center resulted in nearly $700,000 in annual savings due to reductions in hospital readmissions alone. Assuming just 20 percent of Mississippi’s diabetic population enrolled in this program, Medicaid savings in the state would be $189 million per year.”

“Connected care technologies are also greatly improving health outcomes for patients,” Carr continued. “For example, a study of 20 remote patient monitoring trials found a 20 percent reduction in all-cause mortality and a 15 percent reduction in heart failure-related hospitalizations. The Veterans Health Administration’s remote patient monitoring program resulted in a 25 percent reduction in days of inpatient care and a 19 percent reduction in hospital admission. Another remote patient monitoring initiative showed a 46 percent reduction in ER visits, a 53 percent reduction in hospital admissions, and a 25 percent shorter length of in-patient stay.”

The three-year program would support connected health projects designed to benefit low-income residents, particularly those living in underserved regions and veterans. It would focus on assisting healthcare providers in securing the technology and broadband resources needed to launch remote patient monitoring and telehealth programs.

Carr said the FCC would continue to gather feedback on the program “to ensure that we target this funding to the right participants.” He said the agency is looking for comments on the costs involved in developing connected care programs, so that it will know how to best fund those projects it chooses to support.

The proposal has the support of several health organizations, including ACT | The App Association.

“Given the patient mortality rates go down by 26 percent when ICUs have telehealth services, the FCC’s Connected Care Pilots are a good start to both cut healthcare costs and get rural Americans the care they need,” Joel Thayer, ACT’s policy counsel, tweeted.