The latest news coming out of the healthcare cycle is that Brendan Carr, the FCC Commissioner, has announced a vote that could expand telehealth funding for millions of Americans with limited or no proper access to hospitals and doctors’ offices.

This new plan, if passed, could have huge implications for providers and patients all across the country. It will affect everything from hospitals to internet providers to healthcare IT departments and even the adoption rates of connected devices like medical tablets.

Let’s take a look at the plan, the vote, and the current state of telehealth to better understand the lay of the land.

The FCC’s Exciting New Plan

On June 19th, 2019, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr gave a speech at the Tri-Area Community Health Center in Laurel Folk, Virginia at the Virginia Telehealth Network Event.

After praising the health center’s adoption and implementation of telehealth monitoring for diabetes patients, he went on to announce that on July 10th the FCC would hold a vote to pass a $100 million program devoted to telehealth and connected care. This program — called the “Connected Care Pilot Program” — would specifically target “low-income patients, including those living in rural communities and veterans.” Which is great, because these demographics are exactly the kind of people who need telehealth the most.

In the speech, Carr claimed that they’d like to provide funding to “cover up to 85% of the costs of the patient connectivity needed” for these pilot programs.

You might ask “how is the FCC involved in this endeavor,” and it’s a fair question. The Federal Communications Commission oversees a wide range of broadcast venues, including broadband internet. With the FCC helping low-income hospitals fund their broadband initiatives and upgrades, it will allow healthcare facilities to have the bandwidth to handle the data challenges inherent in telehealth services.

This is doubly useful in rural areas, where broadband is severely limited and sometimes doesn’t exist at all.

Why Does Telehealth Matter?

Brendan Carr, in his speech and later on Twitter, compared the move toward telehealth and away from brick-and-mortar facilities to the shift “from Blockbuster to Netflix,” which is a bold statement.

Obviously, hospitals and doctors offices are never going to go the way of Blockbuster (R.I.P.), but he’s right in comparing how revolutionary the change could be. Pretty much all healthcare facilities are suffering from overcrowding and understaffing, which puts greater burdens (and insane hours) on existing clinicians. It also means patients are waiting longer for treatment or abandoning treatment altogether because of the hassle. Patient outcomes suffer, as do hospital ratings, which can lead to cutbacks or shutdown, which leads to more overcrowding, etc. You get the idea.

Telehealth, also called connected care, is a wide umbrella that covers everything from virtual doctor visits to sharing food logs to remotely tracking patient vitals. Basically, it means any communication your sharing with your healthcare provider, over long distance, that is intended to help patient outcomes.

The Telehealth Solutions That are Already Helping Patients Today

While telehealth is useful for everyone, it’s a particularly clever solution for folks living in rural areas (which tend to have difficult/long travel times and hospital shortages), the elderly (mobility is an issue), those with low income, and veterans who may be underserved.

For rural patients, they can perform easy check-up video calls with their doctors without having to trek over a mountain. Instead of busing all the residents of an elder care facility to the hospital for their frequent visits, care staff can be trained on devices like tough medical tablets to facilitate long-distance care, take pictures of wound sites, pass on vitals, scan and track drug delivery, and the like.

Patients with chronic diseases can be easily monitored from their home, hospice, or care facility, using Internet-of-Things devices like smartwatches to even send live biodata like pulse rate, sleep tracking, physical activity, and even more specialized readings like blood oxygen levels (depending on the equipment).

The Current State of Telehealth

Telehealth is already being adopted by some facilities but is a far cry from ubiquitous.

A survey in 2018, given by M3 Global Research, found that only about 20% of the polled doctors said they had experience with video visits – however, most (on average around 80% averaged across specializations) had faith in the practice of telehealth and felt it had the potential to improve patient lives and outcomes. Consider too that in 2015, the rate of doctors who had used telehealth was 5%. That’s a massive increase in only three years time.

Here’s a surprising bit of information: while one would think that young, tech-savvy doctors would be more likely to adopt telehealth, it’s actually the next oldest bracket of physicians (35-44) who were more likely to embrace (and show interest) in telehealth as compared to the clinicians aged 25-34.

Finally, the study also extrapolated that based off current data, adoption rates, and stated interest, the number of doctors who use telehealth twice weekly (or more) could grow to at least half of all doctors by the year 2022.

A Shot in the Arm for Telehealth

The survey numbers, combined with the potential of the FCC vote and the $100 million Connected Care Pilot program, show a clear path forward. Telehealth is expanding, both in interest, use, political cache, and in simple funding.

Hospitals and other healthcare facilities looking to ride the onrushing wave need to start considering their telehealth strategies now. To learn more about implementing the fast, camera-equipped medical tablets and medical computers needed to arm clinicians for the telehealth revolution, contact Cybernet today.