FCC Is Connecting Healthcare Providers With Remote Patients Via Computer

National Broadband Plan expands telemedicine to patients who live in rural areas.  Access to healthcare isn’t always convenient for Americans who live in remote rural areas.  To fill the void, high-speed internet connections are being put into place to bring top-quality healthcare to patients via computer. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has pledged $400 million a year to connect approximately 10,000 rural healthcare providers under its National Broadband Plan.

A case in point is Redway, CA – a town of 1,200 located 200 miles north of San Francisco – whose Redwoods Rural Health Center and Dr. Wendi Joiner serve 4,000 patients, many of whom do not live within easy driving distance of the clinic.  According to Dr. Joiner, “It’s a special challenge.  I love it, but sometimes I feel like there should be two or three of me.  It happens a lot where we’re asked to do things that we’re not specialists in.”

The FCC’s rural telemedicine plan will make it easier for rural people to access healthcare, according to chairman, Julius Genachowski.  “If you have rural connectivity for healthcare, then patients don’t have to drive two or three or four hours for their treatments – instead, (they) can stay back where they live, consult with a medical professional remotely.”  The FCC’s pilot program has been successful and expanded the reach of the University of California, Davis Medical Center’s telemedicine clinic.

According to Dr. Tom Nesbitt, who heads the UC Davis rural program, his hospital serves 3,000 patients annually who live in remote locations.  “The demand would even be greater if the remote locations had equipment, bandwidth and training.”  The money to make this possible is already available through the Universal Service Fund, which brings telephone service to rural areas.  Genachowski is transferring the money to broadband to improve the availability of healthcare in remote locations.  “One of the greatest forms of savings will come from healthcare spending that we don’t have to make because we catch problems earlier.  We can treat and diagnose remotely,” he said.

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