medical-telemetry-1Imagine if all Americans had seamless remote access to doctors and hospitals throughout the country, if an individual in Angle Inlet, MN (total population of 60) could consult with a doctor in Minneapolis without ever having to leave the comfort of his own home, or if a surgeon in Washington, DC, could perform an operation on an individual located in Charlotte, NC via robotics.

As the FCC notes, “the future of modern health care appears to be fundamentally premised on the widespread availability and accessibility of high-speed connectivity. By some estimates, broadband-enabled health information technology can help to improve the quality of health care and significantly lower health care costs by hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming decades.” Unfortunately, the U.S. remains behind some advanced countries in the adoption of such technology.

On April 24, the FCC released a Public Notice seeking ways to remedy that status. The Public Notice seeks comments, data, and information on a broad range of regulatory, policy, technical and infrastructure issues relating to the emerging broadband-enabled health and care ecosystem. Specifically, the FCC wants to know how it can help accelerate the adoption and accessibility of broadband-enabled health care, particularly in rural and underserved communities across the country. Leading in this mission is the Connect2Health Task Force (the “Task Force”), a senior-level, multi-disciplinary team, which brings together FCC expertise on the intersection of broadband, advanced technology, and health policy.

As part of its charge, the Task Force is focused on seven key objectives. While the questions are numerous, we provide a general overview of the information the FCC seeks. Medical device manufacturers, broadband providers, wireless and software companies, health care providers and consumer groups will be most interested in providing comments.

OBJECTIVE I:  Promoting effective policy and regulatory solutions that encourage broadband adoption and promote health IT.

  1. How can the FCC further accelerate broadband adoption in the health care context, and what technical issues must it consider with respect to its efforts?
  2. What are the types, impact, scale, and benefits of broadband-enabled services and technologies used for the delivery of health care?
  3. What are health care providers’ connectivity requirements?
  4. What efforts are being made at the state and local levels to address broadband health technology accessibility issues in rural and remote areas, Tribal lands, and underserved urban areas?
  5. How can the Task Force effectively and efficiently identify any gaps in the availability of broadband-enabled health technologies in the country?
  6. What are the impediments to making broadband health technology services available and ubiquitous in rural and remote areas?

OBJECTIVE II:  Identifying regulatory barriers (and incentives) to the deployment of radio frequency (RF)-enabled advanced health care technologies and devices.

  1. What types of broadband-enabled health technologies and medical devices are currently in the market, and what types might be launched in the future?
  2. What are the future spectrum and wireless infrastructure needs in the health care sector?
  3. What technical issues or concerns arise with the increased use and proliferation of wireless medical devices in health care settings and public spaces?
  4. Are there any regulatory barriers concerning the deployment of advanced broadband-enabled health care technologies and medical devices?

OBJECTIVE III:  Strengthening the nation’s telehealth infrastructure through the FCC’s Rural Health Care Program and other initiatives.

  1. How can the FCC increase access to broadband for health care providers (HCPs), particularly those serving rural areas?
  2. How can the FCC foster the development and deployment of broadband health care networks?
  3. How can the FCC maximize the cost-effectiveness of the program?

OBJECTIVE IV:  Raising consumer awareness about the value proposition of broadband in the health care sector and its potential for addressing health care disparities.

  1. How can the FCC effectively increase consumer awareness about the value proposition of broadband in the health care sector?
  2. Are there any concerns that may discourage consumers, health care providers, or others from adopting broadband-enabled health services and other advanced health technologies?
  3. How can broadband enable healthcare-related support systems to connect patients to the people, services and information they need to get well and stay healthy?
  4. Are there any practical issues that may be impeding consumer awareness and adoption of broadband-enabled health technologies?

OBJECTIVE V:  Enabling the development of broadband-enabled health technologies that are designed to be fully accessible to people with disabilities.

  1. How are broadband-enabled health technologies and medical devices currently being used by people with disabilities?
  2. Is the design and development of broadband-enabled health services and technologies, as well as cutting-edge health and medical devices and applications, accessible to, and usable by, people with disabilities?
  3. To what extent are clinicians aware of video relay service and using it when remotely consulting with American Sign Language users on a telephone call?
  4. How can the FCC effectively raise awareness among people with disabilities about the value proposition of broadband in health?

OBJECTIVE VI:  Highlighting effective telehealth projects, broadband-enabled health technologies, and mHealth applications across the country and abroad – to identify lessons learned, best practices, and regulatory challenges.

  1. How are patients responding to broadband-enabled telehealth and telemedicine services?
  2. What challenges are faced by states, localities, and Tribal governments, as well as communities abroad, in deploying effective broadband-enabled telehealth and telemedicine projects?
  3. How can the public be better informed about the availability of broadband-enabled health services and technologies and mHealth applications?
  4. To what extent is the United States not taking full advantage of the opportunities that broadband-enabled health technology provides?

OBJECTIVE VII:  Engaging a diverse array of traditional and non-traditional stakeholders to identify emerging issues and opportunities in the broadband health space.

  1. What additional emerging issues of concern not yet identified could potentially impact efforts to accelerate the availability of broadband-enabled health technologies and services, as well as medical devices that rely on communications technology?
  2. What are the emerging opportunities for investors, innovators, and entrepreneurs in the broadband health space and in the development of the next generation of connected health technologies and converged medical devices?
  3. How can the FCC promote small and diverse investors, innovators, and entrepreneurs in the broadband health sector in order to better ensure that the benefits of broadband-health technologies and services are available to all Americans?

The deadline for filing comments is May 24, 2017, and June 8, 2017 for reply comments, in Docket No. 16-46. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you would like assistance in preparing and filing comments.