Healthcare Technology Featured Article

July 19, 2010

Healthcare Technology and News: Rural Health Care to Get More Subsidized Internet

Federal regulators want to bring more Internet usage to rural hospitals and other health care facilities, proposing to expand the $400 million government subsidy program.

The Associated Press reported that the Federal Communications Commission has voted unanimously “to consider changes to its rural health care program, one of four programs paid for by the $8 billion federal fund that subsidizes telecommunications services in poor and rural areas.”

Industry observer John Lister writes that “The idea is to allow patients in remote locations access to some of the medical tech which is available in larger city medical facilities, though in some cases the benefits will be as simple as being able to e-mail a high-resolution X-ray image.”

The agency wants to leave the $400 million funding cap in place, the AP says, citing underspending in the past, but “allow the program to pay for 50 percent of monthly broadband access charges at eligible health care facilities -- up from 25 percent now.”

Washington Post blogger Cecilia Kang says in the proposal to be voted on by the five-member commission, “the agency said it would increase the portion of health provider service costs it subsidizes to 50 percent from 25 percent. The agency would also pay for 85 percent of the construction costs for new or upgraded broadband networks to areas that have poor infrastructure for health care information technology.”

FCC officials say the program will also be used to subsidize the construction of broadband networks.

As Lister explains, there are three components to the $400 million program:

“Working with health care providers to fund the expansion of broadband to areas that currently don’t have it at all, or lack the necessary capacity.

“Splitting the ongoing costs of broadband networks between government and healthcare providers in these areas.

“Bringing broadband to facilities most in need of remote access to technology such as dialysis centers.”

David Sims is a contributing editor for HealthTechZone. To read more of David’s articles, please visit his columnist page. He also blogs for HealthTechZone here.

Edited by Marisa Torrieri

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