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New Funding for Rural Telemedicine Initiatives

Jan 15

Written by: Grants Office, LLC
Tuesday, January 15, 2013  RssIcon

By Susannah Mayhall

 

On January 7, 2013, the Federal Communications Commission announced a new funding program that will make up to $400 million available annually to support modern telemedicine initiatives by providing a discount on high speed broadband service to providers. The program, entitled the "Healthcare Connect Fund," is designed to build on the FCC's Rural Healthcare pilot program and will transform the Commission's healthcare-related broadband initiative into a permanent support fixture.

 

The goals of the new program include increasing broadband access for healthcare providers (particularly those serving rural areas), encouraging development and deployment of broadband healthcare networks, and increasing the impact of the Commission's universal service healthcare funding.  The program's anticipated impact will infuse the healthcare sector with myriad new telemedicine programs nationwide and enable thousands of current providers to upgrade their broadband connections.

 

The Healthcare Connect Fund will be a game changer for healthcare providers serving rural patients by removing the difficulties of its former primary healthcare program, which limited the types of service eligible for funding, made the high bandwidth connections necessary for modern telemedicine difficult to attain, and preventing consortia from effectively bargaining for the lowest cost service. This new program is anticipated to reduce the cost of broadband health networks by half through group purchases by consortia and other means. Although non-rural providers may participate in the program as part of consortia, the consortia must be primarily rural.

 

In addition to making access to specialists at major health centers available to rural patients, the program will also support the exchange of electronic health records in an effort to increasing care coordination and lowering costs. The development of state and regional healthcare consortia will also be encouraged through the program. Participating healthcare providers must provide a 35% contribution to the costs of broadband services, equipment, connections to research and education networks, and healthcare provider-constructed and owned facilities, which will be met with a 65% discount through the Healthcare Connect Fund to cover the remainder of the costs associated with the project.

 

The success of the new and upgraded broadband connections will be tested through a new Skilled Nursing Facilities Pilot Program in 2014. Funding for this program will be up to $50 million over a three-year period.

 

This program is the newest example of the government's ongoing efforts to spread broadband access to rural parts of the country and utilize cutting-edge telemedicine technology to increase access to healthcare programs while lower costs. Since 1997, the FCC has actively promoted rural broadband access for healthcare through its original Rural Health Care Program. The Rural Health Care Pilot Program was launched in 2006 to learn more about how to effectively support broadband healthcare networks. This program currently funds approximately fifty active pilot programs across the country. The new Healthcare Connect Fund will move the FCC's broadband funding from pilot to permanent.

 

For more information on this new initiative, see http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2013/db0107/DOC-318275A1.pdf.

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