If you had a health emergency, chances are you could reach a hospital in time to receive care. But, for patients of underserved populations, it’s a different story. While most Americans can reach a Level I or Level II trauma center within an hour, only 24% of Americans residing in rural areas can do so within that same timeframe. Despite significant strides in the industry with the introduction of telehealth services, lack of high-speed internet connections has seriously hampered efforts. But, the FCC is looking to help change that.

Just last week the FCC approved a three-year, $100 million pilot program that will support telehealth and mHealth programs that improve access to care for underserved populations, including those in rural areas and veterans.

“With advances in telemedicine, healthcare is no longer limited to the confines of traditional brick-and-mortar healthcare facilities. With an internet connection, patients can now access high-quality care right on their smartphones, tablets, or other devices regardless of where they are located,” said Brendan Carr, FCC commissioner.

The proposed program intends to give an 85% discount on connectivity for broadband-based telehealth projects that connect patients with their healthcare provider for health services such as chronic disease management. The connected care program is planned to go beyond the agency’s current initiatives by providing the necessary resources to actually connect underserved patients directly with clinicians.

“By supporting health care providers’ investments in telehealth, the Connected Care Pilot program could extend the patient–doctor relationship beyond the hospital and help bridge both the digital and health care divides,” said Ajit Pai, FCC Chairman.

Why This Matters –

It’s easy to feel eager (or even anxious) about the all of the new and exciting innovations coming from an industry known for being apprehensive to major change – especially in regards to the incorporation of technology. But, as health and tech continue to merge together to explore new opportunities, the FCC’s connected care program is shining light on an underlying issue impacting an important population of patients.

Over 57 million people in the U.S. live in a designated primary care shortage area and are often faced with long travel times to receive the treatment they need. When telehealth presented itself as a potential solution, many looked forward to being able to receive care from their home, however, slow or unavailable high-speed internet connections have made remote care inaccessible. In a recent data report, the FCC found that U.S. consumers pay some of the highest prices for fixed and mobile broadband connections, which means that the cool, new health app that just got released is mostly likely not a reasonable health alternative for most in underserved areas.

As we see telehealth shape the way patients receive care, addressing the fact that what is supposed to be an alternative for easier, faster care isn’t an option to a population who arguably may need it the most.

About the Author:

Khye Tucker is an Innovation Strategist in Columbus, OH. With a passion for writing and a background in communications, Khye strives to bring brand stories to life through a fresh perspective, innovative thinking and creative storytelling.