July 15, 2020 — Continuing to expand access to telehealth to facilitate health care during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond is essential, said Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on Tuesday.
In a virtual event sponsored by Axios, Pai explained why the fight for telehealth accessibility is personal to him, recalling memories of his parents leaving their rural Kansas home early in the morning to drive an hour to work at the nearest hospitals in another city.
“Now at the FCC, I have the chance to make an impact,” Pai said.
“One of the things that we’re trying to do at the FCC is get healthcare to every American that may not be able to go to a brick-and-mortar facility,” he continued.
Pai listed some of the agency’s recent telehealth initiatives, saying that it has “made tremendous strides in the past couple years.”
The agency recently helped allocate $200 million in telehealth funding, appropriated by Congress as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which aided healthcare providers by providing services to patients at their homes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pai reported that all of the funding allocated by the CARES Act has been distributed to 539 applicants across 47 different states, commenting that the government worked remarkably fast on the CARES Act.
Further action has been taken by the agency through increasing the budget for their Rural Healthcare Program and the Connect and Care Pilot Program, which subsidizes technology costs to enable patients’ vitals to be tracked by wireless sensors in real time in order to promptly detect emergency situations, Pai said.
He further described the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund and the 5G fund for rural America as agency initiatives aimed at closing the digital divide, thus benefitting telehealth.
Pai said that his favorite part of working at the FCC is seeing the results of the agency’s legislation on the ground.
He recently visited Salt Lake City, Utah where the Department of Veteran Affairs has a national mental telehealth hub.
There, a veteran who received mental health care via telehealth from over 1,000 miles away in Dallas, Texas, told Pai that the service had added years to his life and made his family stronger, Pai said.
“Even patients that are not tech savvy at first come to love it,” Pai said.
Patients enjoy saving time and effort by accessing healthcare at home he said, and most importantly, telehealth reduces patients’ risk of being exposed to coronavirus.
Going forward, Pai said he hopes to see more telehealth enterprises.
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