Funding Expands Telemedicine to Rural Communities
Yesterday the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced $400 million will be made available through a healthcare connect fund to create and expand telehealth networks. This comes on the heels of HHS’ own announcement that $1.9 million in grants will be allocated to add five regional and one national telehealth resource center to its network.
FCC Chairman Genachowski made the announcement saying this annual funding program will be part of the FCC’s new Healthcare Connect Fund available to healthcare providers. Starting this year the FCC’s Healthcare Connect Fund will fund the development of broadband networks to support telehealth, linking urban medical centers to rural clinics. The funding will also help support electronic access to health records. The FCC will start accepting applications later this year.
According to the press release issued by the FCC, the new Healthcare Connect Fund program “builds on the success on the FCC’s Rural Healthcare pilot program and will expand the Commission’s health care broadband initiative from pilot to permanent program.”
The goals of the new program are to:
- Increase access to broadband for healthcare providers and especially those serving rural areas.
- Foster development and deployment of broadband health care networks.
- Maximize impact of the FCC’s universal service healthcare funding.
The fund will support healthcare providers in obtaining higher bandwidth connections required for telehealth initiatives. This will be achieved by:
- Removing limitations on the technology and types of clinicians involved in telehealth services.
- Encouraging more connections between urban medical centers and rural hospitals.
- Requiring healthcare providers participating in telehealth initiatives to cover 35% of the costs, while also allowing health care providers to achieve lower rates through group purchasing.
- Supporting broadband services from multiple communications providers.
- Paying for upgrades to the higher-speed broadband services needed for some health care applications.
Entities eligible for funds include public or non-profit hospitals, rural health clinics, community health centers, health centers serving
migrants, community mental health centers, local health departments or agencies, post-secondary educational institutions/teaching hospitals/medical schools, or a combination of the above.