Tuesday, November 20, 2007

FCC's New Telehealth Program Launches in North Carolina

With health care a subject on everyone's lips these days there are many organizations chiming in with their approaches to the subject. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) joins those ranks as they launch their new "Telehealth" initiative, debuting today in western North Carolina.

Aliya Sternstein reports for the National Journal's Technology Daily supplement (accessed for this story via Government Executive):

The FCC's plan will fund dedicated broadband networks for telehealth activities, like videoconference consultations or second opinions from out-of-state specialists. Telemedicine is intended to cuts costs, travel time and medical errors, especially for people in remote or poverty-stricken regions of the country.

"With this pilot program, the commission will be taking a major step toward the goal of connecting healthcare facilities across the nation with one another through broadband telehealth networks for the benefit of patients," [FCC Chairman Kevin] Martin said.

The plan rests on leveraging existing telehealth networks to build new, more comprehensive systems. Rural providers, nonprofit facilities and county-run institutions that want to participate can obtain funding for up to 85 percent of design, construction and operational expenses.

For-profit entities also can join the new networks but will have to pay their fair share of the costs. The set-up allows larger urban trauma centers and teaching hospitals to serve as telemedicine hubs for smaller, rural hospitals and economically strained facilities.

According to Roy Mark over on E-Week the project is certainly not lacking in scope:

The Federal Communications Commission has allocated $417 million to help build 69 statewide or regional broadband telehealth networks across 42 states and three U.S. territories...

The funding will support the connection of more than 6,000 public and non-profit health care providers nationwide to broadband telehealth networks, which can be used to transmit health records and process transactions securely.

Telemedicine already has a proven track record with one of the groups administering the FCC funds for the West Virginia pilot program: the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Jon Ostendorff of the Ashville Citizen Times reports:

Telemedicine is used in treating diabetes patients in Cherokee, said Dr. Ann Bullock, a physician with the tribal health care system. Doctors on the Cherokee Indian Reservation use the Internet to send images of retinal scans to a specialist in Asheville who then recommends treatment.

“So instead to of sending all those patients over to Asheville or taking his time to always have to come out here and do those screenings, we can do them in our diabetes clinic when our patients come, and he can take a look at those,” she said. “It saves a lot of resources and time.”

This is a major step toward more widespread use of EMRs (electronic medical records). According to E-Week's Roy Mark, those involved in this pilot program will need to "implement information technology standards as set forth by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services wherever feasible." Are the days of data portability and transparency getting closer? It's too early to tell how far this will go, but access does seem to be improving!

SOURCE: "FCC announces creation of telehealth initiative"11/19/07
SOURCE: "FCC Launches Health Networks Initiative" 10/20/07
SOURCE: "Program brings top doctors to rural areas" 11/20/07
photo courtesy of J. Reed, used under this Creative Commons license


  1. Exciting news and a definite asset for our area. Thanks to the leaders in WNC that had the insight to go in this direction. Who is leading this initiative now? I know Congressman Taylor was working with several folks over the past few years. I am glad to see the project moving forward. SL Ledford, Murphy NC

  2. SL,
    thanks for reading and also for leaving us a comment on this. It is always nice to get the erspective of someone "on the ground," in the area I am writing about.

    I am not certain at this point which of your Congressmen or Senators is leading the program, but I can tell you that it is part of the Rural Health Care Pilot Program which shuld make it easier to track down.

    So tell me, are many people there excited about this? What are the general thoughts that you and others you know have on this new innovation (I gather from your initial response that you are in favor...)

    Thanks again for responding, be well!


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