This month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a report prepared by the Intergovernmental Advisory Committee regarding state, local, and tribal regulatory barriers and incentives to telehealth. The report examines how elements of broadband development and regulation act as barriers to the adoption of telehealth in rural and tribal areas across the country, then provide recommendations that may facilitate the expansion of telehealth.

The report addresses shortfalls in broadband deployment into rural areas, stating the primary elements affecting telehealth include a shortage of rural areas with broadband capabilities adequate for the delivery of services via telehealth and lack of proper implementation to ensure consistent connectivity in areas where broadband access exists. Additionally, the report addresses more specific needs, including infrastructure connecting to a variety of medical settings, software interoperability, more comprehensive connectivity measurements, improved coordination of state and federal universal service programs, and greater access to broadband in tribal areas.

The report examines more than just regulatory barriers

Many of the recommendations provided by the report address the need for additional funding to increase broadband deployment in key underserved, rural, tribal, and territorial areas as well as improved coordination between state and federal broadband development programs. There is also an emphasis on improving broadband access data collection, echoing some findings from a congressional report on broadband data and mapping released in October. Regulatory recommendations include further expansion of the FCC’s Rural Health Care Program to cover institutional mobile technologies not currently covered and for health plans to not exclude coverage solely on the basis that a service was provided through telehealth. It is also suggested for the FCC to work with other governmental agencies to address compensation disparities and to ensure the same standard of care can be met in both in-person and telehealth visits.

Eric Haden is the President of Drexly Health Solutions

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