5 things to know about the FCC & its influence on healthcare

The Federal Communications Commission has the potential to play an unprecedented role in shaping how healthcare is delivered as trends like telehealth, remote patient monitoring and health information exchange become mainstream.

Here are five things to know about the FCC and its influence on healthcare:

1. The FCC implements and enforces regulations on radio, TV, wire, satellite and cable communications throughout the country. Congress established the commission under the Communications Act of 1934 to centralize the regulation of communications technologies, replacing the Federal Radio Commission. Today, the agency is helmed by Ajit Pai, who was initially appointed to the commission by former President Barack Obama in 2012 and appointed FCC chairman by President Donald Trump in 2017.

2. The agency is composed of 11 advisory committees and task forces that provide commissioners with guidance and expertise on a range of topics. The primary group that drives the FCC's work in healthcare is the Connect2HealthFCC Task Force, which explores how internet-connected technologies such as telehealth or remote patient monitoring improve access to healthcare. In March 2017, Mr. Pai visited the Cleveland Clinic to voice his commitment to maintaining the task force.

3. One of the task force's flagship programs is a collaboration between the FCC and the National Cancer Institute called the Broadband Cancer Collaboration. Together, the two agencies convened a group of cancer experts to evaluate whether improved internet access enhanced care for cancer patients residing in the rural Appalachian region. With bolstered broadband connectivity, the program aims to help physicians monitor and manage patients' symptoms more effectively, even when they're outside of the hospital setting.

4. On a national level, the FCC's Rural Health Care Program has proved one of the agency's most popular programs, leading Mr. Pai to raise its funding cap by $171 million in June. The Rural Health Care Program supplies eligible healthcare providers with funding for broadband and telecommunications services, with a focus on supporting telehealth projects. In early August, the FCC also unveiled plans to move forward with a separate telehealth program called the Connected Care Pilot Program.

5. The FCC's high-profile decision to dismantle net neutrality also holds implications for the healthcare industry. In July, the American Academy of Family Physicians penned a letter to Mr. Pai, claiming the repeal may allow broadband providers to restrict the flow of health information. "The internet forms the backbone on which the healthcare industry is building capabilities for health information exchange," the AAFP wrote. "Lack of health information exchange is literally life-threatening."

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