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In a Few Weeks, Telehealth Has Gone from Pre-COVID19 Convenience to Life or Death Necessity

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Photo of Mei Kwong courtesy the California Health Care Foundation

May 1, 2020— There will be an outcry if the telehealth tools are taken away from Americans following the coronavirus pandemic, said Mei Kwong, executive director of the Center for Connected Health Policy, at a webinar hosted by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation on Wednesday.

Ann Mond Johnson, another panelist and CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, argued that during the ordeals of pandemic telehealth has gone from a “pre-COVID convenience” to a “life-or-death” necessity.

Telehealth, also known as telemedicine refers to receiving remote consultation from a medical provider, and it has the transition from in-person appointments to telehealth appointments have been fast during coronavirus. Johnson has witnessed practices that have “converted over to virtual literally over a weekend.”

The government has responded to the demand for telehealth by “removing many barriers,” said Johnson.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services has changed rules governing Medicare that loosen reimbursement factors such as location of patient, services that are reimbursed, and expanding who can provide the services according to Kwong.

In addition, Kwong also noted that the federal government is now taking more steps to be “relaxed” around HIPAA compliance. Further, doctors can now prescribe medication to patients with opioid-use disorder to keep them from withdrawal, even if the doctor has never met the patient before.

“I love how we have been trendsetters,” said Angela Fusaro, CEO of Physician360, referencing her and her peers’ work on telehealth long before the pandemic vaulted it into the public vocabulary.

Accordingly, panelists predict strong reactions among Americans if recent telehealth policies are rolled back following the health crisis. Kwong pointed out that for some Americans who lack broadband, “the phone may be the only way” that they can reach a doctor.

Fusaro wondered if politicians will support “the providers who rallied” behind the technology, or if will leave them out to dry by rolling back those policies.

She also highlighted the use for telehealth in treating issues of mental health. The American Psychological Association recently endorsed using telehealth for mental health appointments as “good if not better than” in-person visits.

For a problem that affects 20 percent of Americans, and with half of all counties in America not offering any mental health services, Fusaro argues that telehealth is an inevitable tool of the future.

As Johnson pointed out, when the practice of laparoscopic surgery was adopted by the medical community, it was eventually just called “surgery.”

“This is not going away,” Johnson said of telehealth. “It’s only getting bigger.”

David Jelke was a Reporter for Broadband Breakfast. He graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in neuroscience. Growing up in Miami, he learned to speak Spanish during a study abroad semester in Peru. He is now teaching himself French on his iPhone.

Health

Ask Me Anything! Friday with Craig Settles, Community Telehealth Pioneer at 2:30 p.m. ET

Visit Broadband.Money to register for the Ask Me Anything! event on Friday, December 3, 2021, at 2:30 p.m. ET.

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Visit Broadband.Money to register for the Ask Me Anything! event on Friday, December 3, 2021, at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Craig’s tireless work has helped transform the last mile of broadband in the U.S., through his influence among national, state, and corporate decision makers, and his on-the-ground work building community broadband coalitions. Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark will interview Craig Settles in this Broadband.Money Ask Me Anything!

Read the Broadband.Money profile of Craig Settles

About Our Distinguished Guest

Saved from a stroke by telehealth, Craig Settles pays it forward by uniting community broadband teams and healthcare stakeholders through telehealth projects that transform healthcare delivery.

Mr. Settles conducts needs analyses with community stakeholders who want broadband networks and/or telehealth to improve economic development, healthcare, education and local government. Mr. Settles’ needs analyses opens up additional opportunities to raise money for networks, as well as increase the financial sustainability of your network. He’s been doing this work since 2006.

A community telehealth champion

Mr. Settles views telehealth as the “Killer App” that can close the digital divide because everyone experiences illness or cares for someone who is ill. Every home that telehealth touches must have good broadband. Telehealth technology and broadband in the home provide avenues for other home-based technology services that can improve quality of life, such as companion distance-learning apps, a home business app, and home entertainment apps.

He authored Fighting the Good Fight for Municipal Wireless in 2005, and since then, Mr. Settles has provided community broadband consulting services. His public-sector client list includes Ottumwa, IA, Riverside, Benicia and Glendale, CA and the State of California. Calix, Ciena and Juniper Networks are among those on his private sector client list. In addition, he has testified for the FCC and on Capital Hill.

Craig around the web

Mr. Settles hosts the radio talk show Gigabit Nation, His in-depth analysis reports are valuable resources for community broadband project teams and stakeholders. Building the Gigabit City, Mr. Settles’ blog, further showcases his expertise in this area.

Follow Mr. Settles on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Mr. Settles is frequently called upon as a municipal broadband expert for journalists at CNN, the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Time Magazine and a host of business, technology and local media outlets. He has spoken at various conferences in the U.S, Europe, South America, Australia and Asia.


About Ask Me Anything! (AMA)

AMA invites broadband industry leaders from all corners to share their knowledge and perspectives with our community.

The format is simple:

  1. A one hour live webinar with our distinguished guest
  2. Interactive questions from attendees in the comments below this post
    • See a question you also wonder about? “Like” it to upvote it
    • Have more questions? Add them as comments to this post.
  3. Our guest will answer as many questions as time permits, in order of upvotes
    • A community moderator will paraphrase our guest’s answers and post as reply
    • Want to weigh in with your perspective? You’re welcome to share your replies!

Please be respectful of our distinguished guest. It’s okay to disagree, but thank you for being kind. Trolls will be banned.

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Funding

Another $700 Million for 26 States Through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund

Over 400,000 locations across the U.S. will get broadband in this funding wave.

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Photo by John Staley from NextTV

WASHINGTON, November 12, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission announced Wednesday that it will authorize $709,060,159 for 26 states through its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

These are disbursements of the $9.2 billion that were announced in round one of the RDOF reverse auction that took place in the fall of 2020.

The rural fund supports new broadband deployment efforts for 50 broadband providers in 400,000 locations across the U.S. Much of the funding will go to nonprofit rural electric cooperatives to deploy broadband in their service areas.

But others awarded funding under the auction have already defaulted on coverage that they said they would provide as part of their winning bids.

The 26 states ready to receive Wednesday’s funding include Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said that the announcement “highlights the agency’s commitment to supporting even more opportunities to connect hundreds of thousands of Americans to high-speed, reliable broadband service while doing our due diligence to ensure the applicants can deliver to these unserved communities as promised.”

The Commission’s announcement comes after the FCC launched the second round of its COVID-19 Telehealth Program on Tuesday, granting $42.5 million for health care providers. This telehealth program and exceeds the FCC’s $150 million goal by reaching $166.13 million for telehealth funding.

These funding programs provide reimbursements for telecommunication and information services and connected devices the providers have purchased to continue their telehealth services. The Commission also announced $421 million on Monday to keep over 10 million students connected across the U.S. as part of the Emergency Connectivity Fund.

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Health

Senate Subcommittee Hears Broadband Affordability, Regulatory Flex Key to Reducing Hospital Burdens

Health providers testified before a Senate subcommittee that Congress should be open to all forms of telehealth.

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WASHINGTON, October 7, 2021 – A Senate subcommittee heard Thursday that affordability is the greatest barrier to broadband adoption and that lawmakers should exercise regulatory flexibility when it comes to the forms of telehealth to help reduce inessential hospital visits.

Covid-19 often brings about extreme shortness of breath, the severity of which is best assessed by a doctor, Deanna Larson, president of Avel eCARE, told the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband, which convened a hearing on the state of telehealth and removing barriers to access and improving patient outcomes.

Patients with affordable, high speed internet access can be monitored at home by doctors so that they don’t enter an emergency room or take up a hospital bed prematurely, she said.

Larson urged Congress to extend or make permanent their regulatory flexibility toward telehealth especially as it relates to being neutral on the kinds of telemedicine, such as phone-only care, asynchronous care, and remote patient monitoring. An economic benefit of which would be keeping medical commerce local, she said. Patients wouldn’t be required as often to move to a higher level of care out of town.

Physicians would have 24-hour access to the patient through video calls, monitoring patients in a way which significantly lightens the burdens of the healthcare system, added Larson. With telehealth, doctors can advise patients on exactly when and if they need to go to an emergency room.

Steps to improve telehealth

The committee also heard testimony from Sterling Ransone Jr., president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. Ransone, a strong proponent of telehealth, has found that the digital divide touches rural, tribal and urban communities alike and proposed a series of steps Congress could take to increase public health through broadband policy, including investing in universal affordable broadband service, digital literacy services, end-user devices, audio-only telehealth and data collection in the determinants and outcomes of telehealth as it relates to key factors such as race, gender, ethnicity and language.

Defining broadband as a social determinant of health, Ransone highlighted that affordability is possibly the greatest barrier to broadband adoption and that affordability and access disproportionately affect rural communities.

Sanjeev Arora, founder of Project ECHO and distinguished professor of medicine at the University of New Mexico, agreed: “expanding access to high-quality, high-speed broadband connectivity is critical. It’s a prerequisite for the success of any telehealth model in rural communities and urban underserved areas.”

Telehealth isn’t just vital and broadly popular, it is cost saving. Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr, who also appeared before the subcommittee, shared an estimate that widespread telehealth availability could save the health care system $305 billion a year.

Carr, in an effort to reduce inessential hospital visits and decrease the risk of spreading Covid-19, endorsed the CONNECT for Health Act, the RUSH Act of 2021, the Telehealth Modernization Act, and the Protecting Rural Telehealth Access Act, which in combination would remove geographic restrictions to telehealth services, foster use of telehealth in skilled nursing facilities, grant the Secretary of Health and Human Services greater ability to reduce telehealth restrictions and more.

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