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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.

Reporter Riley Steward is a writer from Denton, Texas, who graduated from The University of Texas' Business Honors Program. He has written for various publications including The Recording Academy Grammy.com. He currently lives and writes in New York City.

Health

Telehealth Has Potential to Shift Medical Focus to Preventative Care and Wellness

Experts say continued investment in telehealth is necessary to improve care systems.

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John Halamka, David Rice, Angela Moore, Jeffrey Neal and Peter Ku

WASHINGTON, December 24, 2021 – Medical experts say continued investment in telehealth systems expanded during the coronavirus pandemic has the potential to improve medicine’s focus on preventative care and wellness.

However, some concern exists over what will happen to telehealth advances made during the pandemic should Congress fail to renew waivers that allowed telehealth provision in government-aligned health programs such as Medicare.

Experts discussed this current juncture in telehealth at a Federal Communications Bar Association event last week.

They remarked on just how quickly telehealth systems were able to grow in the past two years because of Congress’ waivers and the major impacts revoking these waivers could have for these systems and the access of many individuals to healthcare.

A discussed example of virtual medicine’s growth was observed “exponential” increases in new overall patient engagement at Veterans Affairs medical providers through telehealth during some of the deadliest phases of the pandemic.

During a Senate hearing in October, witnesses such as Deanna Larson, president of Avel eCARE, testified that regulatory flexibility from Congress is necessary to address telehealth access, as well as that broadband affordability issues often prevent access to telehealth.

Witnesses also raised that telehealth’s prevalence would increase emergency room bed availability during the pandemic

At the FCBA event, Miller Nash attorney David Rice emphasized that beyond giving medical access to individuals that face obstacles in traveling to medical facilities for treatment, telehealth is simply more convenient than in-person treatment for almost everyone and allows patients to fit medical appointment attendance more easily in their schedules.

In terms of challenges robust telehealth systems would face going forward, Mayo Clinic Platform President John Halamka cited potential licensure issues for providing care, and some argument existed between Rice and Jeffrey Neal, T-Mobile for Government’s national director of federal sales, over whether data privacy issues are likely to be a serious hindrance to virtual treatment.

On Monday, the Federal Communications Commission announced $42.7 million in awards from its COVID-19 Telehealth Program which supports continued care for patients by reimbursing them for telecommunications services, information services and connected devices.

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FCC Announces $43 Million in COVID-19 Telehealth Subsidies

The Federal Communication said the awards will help connect patients to critical health services during a new wave of Covid-19.

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WASHINGTON, December 22, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission announced Monday over $42.7 million in awards from its COVID-19 Telehealth Program.

The agency approved 68 additional applications in a fifth announcement for the second round of the program, bringing the total approved to over $208 million for health care providers in each state, territory, and the District of Columbia.

The program supports the efforts of health care providers to continue serving their patients by providing reimbursement for telecommunications services, information services, and connected devices.

“As the impact of new variants continue to challenge our healthcare system, the FCC has worked diligently to review and approve funding commitments as part of our COVID-19 Telehealth Program,” said Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.  “As we head into 2022, the ability to treat patients and loved ones from the safety of their home is of vital importance.”

Some of the biggest awards went to large health care providers such as the County of Los Angeles Department of Health, which received $1 million for the purchase of telehealth software, services, and equipment to deliver real-time video visits with patients.

Sinai Health System, a consortium of five hospitals in Chicago, Illinois, was awarded $1 million for the purchase of devices, such as laptops, tablets, and webcams, along with telehealth software. The award “will allow healthcare providers to offer remote care to vulnerable patients and reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure,” said the FCC.

The awards also reimburse health care organizations for innovative ideas that connect patients to quality care with broadband. The Westchester County Health Care Corporation in Valhalla, New York, was awarded $1 million for the purchase of remote monitoring software and video equipment, which will allow for the creation of a “tele-ICU” for the provision of remote care for hospitalized patients.

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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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