Senator and FCC commissioner propose telehealth pilot

By Laura Lovett
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telehealth pilot announced from FCC for rural providers

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Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) and FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr have teamed up to propose a new telemedicine initiative that aims to support people at home and prevent hospital readmission, specifically among low-income individuals. The pair are seeking $100 million for the new initiative, called the “Connected Care Pilot Program.”

The program is designed to help people who are low-income, veterans, or living in rural areas get telemedicine care. 

“We’re seeing a trend in telehealth towards connected care everywhere,” Carr said in a statement. “The FCC has long supported the deployment of broadband to healthcare facilities, but advances in technology mean that high-tech, life-saving services are no longer limited to the confines of connected, brick-and-mortar facilities.

"I saw this first hand when I visited Mississippi six months ago and learned about a remote patient monitoring trial that improved outcomes for diabetes patients living in the rural Mississippi Delta. Since then, my office has been meeting with experts in this field, visiting rural health care facilities, and working to see how the FCC can support this movement towards connected care.”

In an op-ed that the pair published in the announcing the initiative, they pointed to a pilot program conducted by the University of Mississippi Medical Center that used remote monitoring to care for people with Type 2 diabetes. In that study, researchers saw an average 1.7 percent reduction in HbA1c levels and a cost savings upwards of $650,000. 

One of the focus areas of the proposed program is preventing re-hospitalization. 

“Telemedicine is no longer just about enabling connectivity among traditional brick-and-mortar healthcare facilities,” the officials wrote in the op-ed.  “The trend is towards connected care everywhere. Remote patient monitoring and mobile health applications that Americans can access on their smartphones or tablets while at home or work are part of a new and seamless way of delivering cost-effective, direct-to-consumer healthcare.” 

Wicker and Carr have said that the program could lead to long-term cost savings. In addition to the Mississippi study, the pair also pointed to the cost saving that the Veterans Health Administration has reported from its remote monitoring program. 

The Department of Veterans Affairs has spent some time investigating telehealth. In fact, in May, the agency finalized its federal rule which allows providers to deliver patient care across state lines and outside of a VA facility using telemedicine. 

The Trump administration has also pledged to allow for the expansion of telemedicine services, specifically looking at treating people with opioid addiction

Carr and Wicker's proposal is still in its early days. Up next, the FCC will vote on a Notice of Inquiry about the project at an opening meeting in August. 

“Given the significant cost savings and improved patient outcomes associated with connected care, we should align public policy in support of this movement in telehealth,” Carr said in a statement. “At the FCC, we can play a constructive role by helping to support the connectivity and deployments needed to ensure that all communities get a fair shot at benefiting from new telehealth technologies. I look forward to working with my colleagues at the FCC, federal and state partners that are active on these issues, and all stakeholders as we seek comment on establishing the Connected Care Pilot Program.”