Telehealth will get a boost with $100 million in new funding from FCC


It is believed that 2019 is going to be a significant year for telehealth. Virtual and remote care services will be widely accepted in healthcare plans and practices in United States.

AARP believes that telehealth industry will reach $36.2 billion by the year 2020, which was just $14.3 billion in 2013.

One of the reasons behind this widespread acceptance of telehealth is that it is a boon to patients who are immobile, can’t reach the doctors, veterans and people living in remote areas. Lately, steps are being taken to ensure that telehealth reaches people who need it the most.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr stated that the agency will be voting in favour of a $100 million Connected Care Pilot Program that will lead to telehealth expansion for low-income Americans nationwide. This would help rural providers to pay the cost of extending remote care to low income patients, veterans and others in medically undeserved areas. Carr was speaking at the rural Laurel Fork, Virginia and announced that the new funding will increase access to care for patients and veterans in remote areas like Appalachia.

Carr said that access to telehealth can make a life-saving difference when there is a focus on ensuring that low-income Americans and veterans get access to this technology, especially to rural communities like Laurel Fork, where the nearest hospital is in a different state.

FCC plans to vote on a notice of proposed rule making next month that will invite comments on several important provisions, including $100 million in Universal Service Fund support to help rural providers to defray the cost of offering remote care to low-income patients that includes people living in medically undeserved areas and veterans.

The NPRM would look out for support for new pilot projects to seek innovation in diabetes management, high-risk pregnancies, cancer, the opioid crisis and pediatric heart disease. FCC mentioned that connected care technologies have led to cost efficiencies with the management of chronic conditions. According to its estimates a widespread use of remote patient monitoring and virtual visits can save the American healthcare system $305 billion each year.

The agency has noted that a study of 20 RPM trials has found a 20 percent reduction in all cause mortality and a 15 percent reduction in heart failure related hospitalizations.

It is tough for people living in isolated rural areas to get access to healthcare. Secure video and audio facilities can connect them to care givers and specialists. In rural parts patients are often miles away from care. Community hospitals with low budgets don’t have specialists like neurologists or cardiologists. Even if they do sometimes, they cannot cater to the requirements of the patients on regular basis as they are few.

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Telehealth changes things for patients living in these remote areas. Patients receive expert treatment locally without getting admitted to a big hospital. Local hospitals are able to save expenses and enhance their services.

Let us understand how Americans particularly the seniors have responded to the use of telehealth. Have they accepted that telehealth is a part of healthcare and are they ready to embrace it?

The Administration for Community Living mentioned in their report published in 2018 that the population aged 65 and over has risen from 37.2 million in 2006 to 49.2 million in 2016 and it is projected to rise to 98 million in 2060. So, the population of seniors is going to rise considerably and health issues will be faced by them.

It is a common misconception that the older population of America wouldn’t want to accept technological interventions in their health care as they are less experienced with technology. They might face cognitive or motor issues that hinder their ability to utilize technology. But, An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs survey reveals that 9 out of 10 adults aged 40 years and over are quite open to using atleast one type of telemedicine.

Telehealth gives access to quality healthcare at an affordable price, it removes distance and mobility challenges. It is as effective as in-person visit. For seniors who suffer from chronic illnesses or mobility issues that make reaching the doctor’s clinic a challenge, telehealth can be convenient.

Seniors are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and other types of illnesses that require constant monitoring. Telemedicine technologies can be used by providers to keep a check on their blood pressure and sugar levels. This curtails the need to pay regular visits to the doctor in-person.

It is costly and difficult for seniors to travel to get care as they have mobility issues. They also have limited access to transportation thus, often miss their appointments. But telehealth provides them the facility to get access to consultation from the doctors regularly. Telehealth and telemedicine platforms include mobile carts, audio-video links and connected devices can connect patients with a doctor or specialist immediately in case of an emergency thus, eliminating the need for an EMT visit or travelling to the hospital.

Thus, telehealth is transforming healthcare and can make a significant contribution to the lives of people living in remote areas, veterans and seniors.