GAO Report Highlights Concern Over Telecommunication Needs of Rural Providers

A report released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office suggests the Federal Communications Commission's weakness in performance would hurt rural healthcare providers and their telecommunication needs, according to the GAO report.

The FCC Rural Health Care Program, which was established in 1997, was created to provide discounts on telecommunications and information services for rural healthcare providers in a primary program and to help fund broadband infrastructure and services in a pilot program. GAO reviewed how the FCC has managed and addressed the needs of rural healthcare providers.

Through its assessment, GAO found the FCC has not surveyed rural healthcare providers on their telecommunications needs, making it harder for the FCC to know how to address those needs. GAO also found that although the FCC distributed more than 86 percent of all committed funds, it has disbursed only $327 million total over the last 12 years since its inception. Other findings from the GAO assessment include the following:

•    Although the FCC is proposing to replace portions of the primary program with new broadband services, without a needs assessment, the FCC cannot determine how well the current program is targeting broadband needs.
•    FCC's substandard planning and communication resulted in delays and difficulties for the pilot program participants.
•    The FCC opened applications for participation in the pilot program before it completely established pilot program requirements.
•    Survey respondents to GAO's assessment demonstrated program guidance for the pilot program was not provided effectively.
•    GAO recommends the chairman of the FCC should conduct an assessment of the telecommunications needs of rural healthcare providers.

Read the GAO report about the FCC and rural healthcare providers.

Read other coverage about healthcare IT in rural healthcare:

- Study: Healthcare Providers in Rural and Ethnic Communities Lagging in EMR Use

- FCC Urged to Make Broadband Technology Flexible for Rural Healthcare

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