FCC proposes steps to meaningful use of IT

March 11, 2010

To close the broadband connectivity gap that exists among healthcare practices, the Federal Communications Commission is proposing transforming its Rural Health Care Program, which is authorized to spend $400 million per year, to help healthcare delivery locations meaningfully use health information technology.

To close the broadband connectivity gap that exists among healthcare practices, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is proposing transforming its Rural Health Care Program, which is authorized to spend $400 million per year, to help healthcare delivery locations meaningfully use health information technology (IT).

That announcement was made at a March 2 session at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society meeting. Speaking were Mohit Kaushal, MD, healthcare director of the Federal Communications Commission National Broadband Plan, and senior health IT leaders from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Indian Health Service, and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The proposal to transform the Rural Health Care Program stems from the FCC's comprehensive analyses of connectivity for health providers in the United States, Kaushal said. The findings of the analysis:

About 3,600 small practices lack access to the basic broadband services they require to achieve meaningful use.

Tens of thousands more locations 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.

Safety-net providers are at a disadvantage in securing broadband solutions, leaving greater hurdles for some of the nation's most underserved citizens to benefit from health IT.

The National Broadband Plan, Kaushal said, will recommend that the federal government:

Make efforts to increase e-care pilots that help transition to an outcome-based payment model. Future iterations of the HHS Office of the National Coordinator's meaningful use program could offer one avenue for implementing these reimbursement changes.

Expand reimbursement for e-care under the current fee-for-service model where outcomes are proven.

Provide Congress with a plan to realize the value of e-care for the long term. After 12 months, Congress should convene a panel to review HHS recommendations and take actions that will ensure the wider adoption of these technologies.