FCC Research on Healthcare IT Infrastructure

Posted on March 2, 2010 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Today at HIMSS, the findings of a research study by the FCC was released.  I find it pretty interesting that the FCC is looking at healthcare IT.  The research study did an analysis of the healthcare IT infrastructure and its ability to support the growth of helathcare IT. Here’s a short summary of their findings:

FCC research has found that the current broadband available to physicians is cost prohibitive and can be a barrier to important developments in health IT.

  • Physician offices with less than 5 doctors can have their needs met by currently available commercial offerings, usually at a reasonable cost. Even so, roughly 3,600 small practices lack access to even the basic broadband services they require to achieve Meaningful Use.
  • Practices with more than 5 practitioners face a larger challenge. They need a higher level of broadband, and tens of thousands of offices in this category face prices that differ significantly, often by $45,000 or more per year for the same level of service. The gap is substantially larger for rural providers

These disparities offset meaningful use incentives and can prove to be a barrier to health IT adoption.

The FCC plans for a major expansion in its efforts to bring high-speed broadband service to healthcare providers. The program is authorized to spend up to $400 million per year, making it the largest sustainable fund for healthcare connectivity. Currently the FCC only spends approximately $70M per year of the $400M due to limitations in how it is authorized to spend the funds. Funds can currently be let through:

–   The Rural Healthcare Support Mechanism subsidizes telecommunications expenses of rural non-profit and public healthcare providers that face higher broadband prices than their urban counterparts. Also covers 25% of the internet service fees

–   Rural Healthcare Pilot Program—a one-time program with 63 projects (totaling $417M) to build dedicated healthcare broadband networks

National Broadband Plan Recommendations:

The FCC would like to substantially expand broadband subsidies to healthcare providers where service is unaffordable, including in urban areas. FCC is requesting a change to improve the health IT infrastructure, including:

  • Allowing private institutions to be eligible for funding (not just non profits and public institutions)
  • Supporting deployment of new broadband networks where they are insufficient by creating a permanent infrastructure program
  • Linking FCC funding to outcome metrics such as “Meaningful Use” to ensure support goes to locations that use health IT in support of guidance from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT