$100 Million Rural Telehealth Pilot Program Takes Flight, Backed by FCC

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted to advance a three-year $100 million pilot program with the intent to bring telehealth services to low-income patients and veterans. With unanimous approval, the FCC approved a provision to move forward and seek comment on the management and implementation of the Connected Care Pilot program.

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Under the proposed parameters, the program would give an 85 percent discount on connectivity for broadband-based telehealth projects that would connect patients to their doctor for a variety of services. Funding would come from the Universal Services Fund—unsurprising, considering the organization was especially created to promote universal access to telecommunications resources. This separate funding was also agreed upon in an effort to have no impact on the budgets of the 4 existing Universal Service Programs: Lifeline, Rural Health Care, E-Rate, and High-Cost (rural broadband support).

The FCC is actively interested in public comments and opinions regarding the coverage of the program. Topics like eligibility, types of providers most needed, prime target areas, and high-need conditions that telehealth can best aid. Previously identified conditions include diabetes, heart disease, mental health, and opioid abuse, which are 4 of the leading causes of chronic health issues among Americans.

RELATED: How Telemedicine is Being Leveraged to Improve Access for Patients

The main goal of the Connected Care Pilot program is best put by FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr—who is credited as the main driving force behind the program—who said in a written statement, “[the goal] is to extend treatment beyond the four walls of the hospital and enable more patients to receive high-quality medical care wherever they are.”

Considering telemedicine’s rapid growth in recent years—and its booming popularity with patients—this program shows promise, both for success and benefits for those involved. As it stands now, the program is projected to support a limited number of projects over a three-year period with controls in place to measure and verify the benefits, costs, and savings associated with connected care.

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