5 ways net neutrality affects healthcare

Healthcare providers today largely depend on the Internet to communicate with patients, order prescriptions and document patient encounters, among other functions. If the Internet's open-forum policies are changed by net neutrality regulations, it could heavily impact healthcare.

Essentially, net neutrality means that all Internet providers must treat all traffic equally in regards to speed and cost. The FCC will vote on new regulations on net neutrality Feb. 26. Here are five ways net neutrality affects healthcare.

1. Mobile health is growing. The proliferation of wearable devices, smartphone fitness apps, patient portals and wireless networks in health is widespread — the World Health Organization estimates that the global market for mobile health will top $26 billion by the end of 2017, according to a news release. Mobile health depends on wireless networks, and if companies are allowed to implement higher rates for faster service, it could stifle innovation, according to a joint letter to the FCC from the Health IT Now Coalition, the M-Health Regulatory Commission and the Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance.

2. Medical software is broadband-hungry. Medical software tends to consume a lot of processing power, and if net neutrality does not succeed, the rates charged for more processing power will be higher, impacting costs for providers.

3. HIE requirements are coming. HIEs require connected broadband service hosting, and as the ONC moves forward with its Interoperability Roadmap and a goal of an operable national health exchange by 2017, more broadband will be required. If net neutrality's regulations are changed, this may have a financial impact on the medical industry.

4. HIPAA compliance could be affected by the regulation. The FCC's current proposal suggests a disclosure requirement for Internet providers to describe their practices on screening content. For Internet providers to speed certain access, they must screen content and determine the type, which could potentially cause security issues.

5. Smaller practices can compete with larger ones. Broadband providers would stratify Internet speed to those who can pay for it net neutrality legislation is not passed, according to the FCC proposal. Smaller practices with less income would not be as able to pay for adequate Internet speed and access, which could potentially affect the quality of care for their patients, according to a Health Affairs blog post. The authors of the blog post suggest the FCC require categories of service, providing labels for each type of business depending on how much broadband speed it needs, so that the quality of service for each type of business does not suffer due to cost.

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