Federal Grants Provide $417M To Connect Rural Providers Online
The Federal Communications Commission on Monday announced $417 million in grants to help rural health care groups build high-speed Internet connections that will allow clinics to connect with medical resources in urban areas, the Washington Post reports.
The three-year pilot project will focus on expanding broadband communication lines to about 6,000 rural hospitals, research centers, universities and clinics -- many of which use dial-up Internet connections. The faster connections could allow rural care providers to upload patient records or send videos and pictures of illnesses to physicians at other facilities.
FCC Chair Kevin Martin said the program also could reduce health costs by allowing physicians and nurses to remotely monitor patients with chronic diseases, which could prevent costly hospital visits.
On Monday, Martin said the program will "play a critical role in the way technology will transform health care," adding, "Not only will a telehealth network connect doctors to patients who have never had access to medical treatment, but they can have access to the top resources on the other side of the country."
The program will be funded with money from the universal service fund, which is collected from long-distance and wireless service subscribers and subsidizes phone and Internet services to educational institutions and libraries, and low-incomes people in rural areas, the Post reports.
The funds allocated for telehealth services have been underutilized, prompting FCC to launch the initiative, according to Martin.
FCC will reimburse 69 organizations for establishing broadband network infrastructure (Hart, Washington Post, 11/20).
The California Telehealth Network is the only grant recipient in California. It will use up to $22.1 million to link about 300 facilities as part of an effort to improve patient-physician interaction and expand mental health counseling in rural areas (FCC release, 11/19).
Robert Kolodner, national coordinator for health information technology at HHS, said the difference in the level of health care services provided to people in rural areas, compared with those in urban areas, is intensified by the lack of high-speed lines. Kolodner said he hopes the program will "take away [the] barrier" to attract more physicians to use electronic medical records, adding, "Trying to do this on dial-up would be essentially impossible" (Washington Post, 11/20).