The Federal Communications Commission is on the verge of embarking on a pilot program that could improve rural Nebraskans’ access to telehealth services.
This is especially important in the state’s rural areas where people have to drive great distances to reach medical clinics and hospitals.
On Aug. 2, the FCC will vote on seeking comment on the Connected Care Pilot Program, which would be funded with $100 million from the Universal Service Fund, which provides support for both telecommunications and advanced information services in rural areas. This fund was set up to make telehealth services and transmission of health records possible.
The idea with the program is to establish a few projects over a two- or three-year period with controls in place to measure their benefits, costs and savings over current health care spending.
“Better telehealth connectivity will improve follow-up care and enhance doctors’ ability to monitor patients outside of the hospital,” Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska said last week when the FCC announced its plans.
Fischer had recently written a letter to FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr outlining the need for health services in rural areas. She also hosted Carr in Nebraska in May for a roundtable discussion on rural broadband connectivity.
The Connected Care Pilot Program is envisioned as an initiative to support telehealth for low-income Americans, especially those living in rural areas.
“Given the significant cost savings and improved patient outcomes associated with connected care, we should align public policy in support of this movement in telehealth,” Carr wrote recently in an op-ed in the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss.
“If just 20 percent of the state’s diabetic population were to enroll in this type of remote patient monitoring, Medicaid savings for Mississippi could be $189 million per year,” the editorial estimated, noting that similar savings could be achieved across the country.
Telehealth services are already being used in some rural Nebraska areas, but improvements in broadband access are needed to ensure that people throughout the state can be monitored by physicians regardless of their distance from the patient.
Considering the health improvements and cost savings promised by telehealth services, the FCC should move forward with this as quickly as possible.