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Telehealth Groups Back FCC’s Proposed Connected Care Pilot Program

As the public comment period comes to a close, several organizations with a stake in telehealth expansion say the FCC's proposed $10 million Connected Care Pilot Program could do a lot to improve access for millions of remote and rural Americans.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- Healthcare groups are coming out in support of the Federal Communications Commission’s $100 million Connected Care Pilot Program, saying the proposed telehealth project could improve access to care for rural and remote Americans by highlighting innovate remote patient monitoring and digital health platforms.

Among those submitting comments ahead of this week’s deadline was the American Hospital Association, which urged federal officials to focus on using telemedicine and telehealth to improve care coordination and management.

“Telehealth solutions have been shown to significantly improve health outcomes and lower overall healthcare system costs,” the organization wrote in a letter. “In particular, telehealth connects patients to vital healthcare services through video conferencing, remote monitoring, electronic consults and wireless communications.”

In its letter, the AHA offered five recommendations:

  1. Design a program “that is administratively simple and does not otherwise impose unnecessary barriers to participation;”
  2. Identify realistic goals and measurements for success;
  3. Make sure the budget is sufficient to carry all programs through to completion;
  4. “Encourage innovative approaches that incentivize community-focused projects, rather than ‘one-off’ HCP or company-driven projects;” and
  5. Protect patient data.

“Successful telehealth projects that work for all members of a community depend on multiple factors, including: sufficient healthcare provider connectivity; sufficient connectivity for remote patients; patient access to equipment and services necessary for telehealth; and ensuring the ability of low-income patients to afford access to broadband connectivity, equipment and services,” the AHA concluded in its letter, written by Ashley B. Thompson, Senior Vice President of Public Policy Analysis and Development.

READ MORE: Planning a Hospital Strategy for Broadband, Telehealth Expansion

The Connected Health Initiative, a collection of dozens of health systems and vendors focused on advancing mHealth and connected care programs, called the proposed program “game-changing for many vulnerable Americans.”

It also noted the program could go well beyond the FCC’s recent decision to boost funding in the Universal Service Fund’s Rural Healthcare Program.

“While the Commission’s Rural Healthcare Fund has been an effective means for connecting eligible healthcare facilities, support for connectivity to enable telehealth and remote monitoring is lacking to the detriment of countless rural American patients in need of state-of-the-art medical care,” the CHI, an offshoot of ACT | The App Association, wrote in its letter. “As proposed, the Commission’s Connected Care Pilot includes in its mission more broadband services enable connectivity for rural patients and healthcare facilities. This focus can make major inroads into solving the broadband-healthcare problem.”

CHI Executive Director Morgan Reed was among the first to support the program when it was unveiled in July by FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr.

“This $100 million program is a boon for the millions of Americans living without reliable access to healthcare and the American businesses driving effective, innovative telehealth solutions,” he said in an e-mail. “We have long been a vocal advocate of connected health and the vital importance of connectivity – without access to broadband, the personalized care, expedited diagnoses, lowered healthcare costs, and countless cost-saving, life-saving benefits of telehealth would be utterly impossible.”

READ MORE: MGMA, AMIA Weigh In on CMS’ RPM, Digital Health Reimbursement Plans

In its letter, written by Brian Scarpelli, Senior Policy Counsel, and Joel Thayer Associate Policy Counsel, CHI urged the FCC to support pilot programs that use connected health technology to improve care outcomes.

“We encourage the Commission to ensure that its pilot provides program participants with the ability to utilize the diversity of connected-health innovations available today through outcome-driven requirements,” the group concluded. “Further, given the impact the Commission’s Connected Care Pilot’s results will have on policymakers’ considerations regarding the efficacy of connected health programs and systems, we urge the Commission to ensure that selected pilot participants are well positioned to demonstrate the value of remote monitoring.”

Also weighing in is the National Association of ACOs (NAACOS), which notes that telehealth gives accountable care organizations an ideal tool to realize its goal of incentivizing patients to live healthier lives.

“Since ACOs achieve savings by eliminating ineffective services and promoting low-cost care, the Commission will find its goals of the Connected Care Pilot will almost certainly fit with ACOs’ mission,” Allison Brennan, the group’s Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, wrote in the group’s letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “NAACOS encourages the Commission to be as open ended as possible with the funding, allowing providers to choose if, for example, fixed or mobile broadband if it serves their patients best.”

“A less prescriptive use of funds would allow ACOs to best fit the needs of their patients,” she added. “ACOs operate across the country – including in sparsely populated areas and dense urban landscapes – and serve an array of patients, including the low-income patients the Commission targets with this pilot. They know what’s best for their patients and communities, and the Commission should be open to hearing about their prospective uses.”

READ MORE: Remote Patient Monitoring Brings mHealth Care Management Into the Home

Brennan also urged the FCC to be careful in how it might define the program’s success.

“ACOs are already required to collect a variety of quality data through Medicare and other commercial payers,” she noted. “To the extent possible, the pilot should leverage existing reporting requirements to measure the effectiveness of a Connected Care Pilot Program before creating new measures and reporting burdens. The Commission should work with stakeholders and measure developers to identify the most appropriate existing measures and if there are none, consider creating new ones.”

“ACOs also closely monitor spending since ability to receive shared savings payments from Medicare and other payers is dependent on reducing costs,” she concluded. “If the Commission seeks to monitor savings generated by expanded use of telehealth, it may be difficult to measure in ACOs given so many confounding factors exist in care coordination efforts.”

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