digital health, broadband, FAC, telehealth

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The news: the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) added 36 new pilot projects at its Connected care pilot program, extending $ 100 million from its Universal Service Fund to help eligible applicants develop telehealth in the United States over the next three years. The new batch of pilots receives $ 31 million; combined with the 23 projects the FCC approved earlier this year, the agency has already distributed more than $ 57 million from the funding pool for projects spanning 30 states.

The unpacked connected care pilot program: The program is designed to help provider organizations implement the infrastructure necessary to extend telehealth services and remote patient monitoring to underserved populations and rural areas.

Selected provider organizations can use the funds to cover the majority of the costs necessary to provide certain telehealth services, expand broadband connectivity, and provide network equipment. The program will cover 85% of these fees. Program participants also go through a lengthy process of selecting suppliers, applying for funding, and other administrative tasks.

Approved projects will address a variety of health issues such as maternal health, chronic disease, mental health, and opioid addiction.

  • For example, based in California Frank R. Howard Memorial Hospital plans to use his allowance $ 504,900 provide remote patient monitoring services to low-income patients with chronic illnesses and mental health issues.
  • In another case, Boone Memorial Health Services of West Virginia is considering using its $ 394,400 Connected Care Pilot Program funds to provide patient-based, internet-connected remote monitoring, broadband connectivity and video tours for 75% of its patient population, which is made up of low-income individuals and veterans.

And after? This pilot program could be the forerunner of more active efforts by telehealth providers to bridge the connectivity gap, but it could be years before we see results from this program.

This program is not the government’s first attempt to expand telehealth infrastructure in the United States:

  • For example, the month of March 2020 CARES Law allocated $ 275 million for rural hospitals to expand their telehealth programs.
  • And in July, the FCC padded the Rural health care program with almost $ 200 million additional funds to support the construction of a stronger telehealth infrastructure in rural areas of the United States.
  • Despite these fundraisers, we have yet to see the scale of their impact or clear examples of how additional cash support translates into improved telehealth infrastructure.

Unlike grants, the FCC doesn’t just spend money on the connectivity divide. His pilot program is testing several connected care projects across the United States and evaluating how the projects are actually paying off with increased access to healthcare and better patient outcomes. This could encourage more telehealth providers to tap into new opportunities in the rural telehealth market, especially if the FCC-supported telehealth infrastructure proves to have an impact on these provider organizations. Even still, given the length of the program process (which involved documents for all funding requests, invoices and reimbursements, and a competitive bidding process to select the necessary services and devices), it could be several years before we see significant changes.

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