McDowell Remarks at Mid-Atlantic Telehealth Resource Center Summit
THE HONORABLE ROBERT M. MCDOWELL
FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION
MID-ATLANTIC TELEHEALTH RESOURCE CENTER SUMMIT
IN CONJUNCTION WITH
THE VIRGINIA TELEHEALTH NETWORK
UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
MARCH 15, 2012[AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY]
Thank you, Dr. Rheuban, for your kind introduction, and thank you for inviting
me to join you during the first summit of the Mid-Atlantic Telehealth Resource Center. I
am particularly pleased to be speaking at this location because my beautiful bride of
nearly 16 years, Jennifer, is an alumna of UVA’s Darden School of Business.
As many of you know, the FCC’s rural health care program is one of four
Universal Service Fund (USF) programs that the Commission implements, as directed by
Congress. While the rural health care program is the smallest of the USF programs, its
size certainly does not diminish its value. As each of you has witnessed first-hand, the
program is vitally important to those in rural America who are lucky enough to have
access to participating networks.
I vividly recall travelling to Alaska during my first year as an FCC commissioner.
I flew to extremely remote parts of the Alaskan frontier to learn more about the health
and communications challenges facing Alaska Native villagers and the
telecommunications carriers that endeavor to serve them. The most memorable portions
of the trip were the health clinics. There I could see how medical images from the most
remote corners of Alaska were transmitted to specialists in Anchorage. I learned how
using telehealth technology can actually save money because, in many instances, having
that technology close at hand means the patient can avoid flying hundreds of miles to a
Additionally, air travel or a long car ride can sometimes be needlessly time-
consuming or painful in many circumstances, such as with a child with an ear infection.
Instead, such a patient can now have his or her ear viewed through an otoscope at a
village clinic and have the images sent to a doctor anywhere in the world, if needed.
Often, with a speedy diagnosis and direction from afar, proper care can then be
administered on site.
In other scenarios, time may be of the essence, thus eliminating travel as a means
to obtain diagnosis and treatment. For example, if a pregnant woman in a remote village
is in labor, telemedicine can assist in the delivery of the baby.
In all of these examples, health care providers are able to use technology to get
answers quickly so patients can proceed with appropriate courses of treatment more
efficiently. Telehealth technologies literally improve and save people’s lives all over
America every day.
As many of you are aware, the rural health care pilot program was created by the
Commission in 2007 as part of the universal service rural health care program, and I was
proud to support this initiative. The pilot was designed to provide universal service
support for cutting-edge infrastructure in order to meet health care needs throughout rural
America. The program was by definition a pilot - an experiment - and thus far has
provided the FCC with an opportunity to learn what works best and what does not. In
fact, relevant to the next panel discussion, it is my understanding that the pilot program
helped fund a telestroke program administered by the University of Virginia.
Meanwhile, in July of 2010, the FCC sought public comment on a number of
reform proposals regarding the rural health care initiative. The Commission has not only
garnered valuable information from those who commented but also has learned a
tremendous amount from participants in the pilot program. All of this information will
be incredibly valuable as the Commission moves to the next step in the reform process.
Even though the FCC’s rural health care program is the smallest USF program, its
effects have been impressive. The program has enabled the health care community to
improve and expand the health care offered to patients in extremely remote parts of our
country. We have also learned that one of the most valuable benefits stemming from our
efforts is the ability of health care providers to work together to create statewide and
regional networks that can spark a virtuous cycle of investment, expansion and
opportunity. By spurring broadband deployment to remote areas, rural health care
centers are well-positioned to serve as hubs for new economic growth, job development,
educational environments and much more. Such partnerships will promote efficiencies in
the system and ensure that taxpayers’ funds are being used wisely.
With all of this in mind, I understand that some of you have been anxiously
waiting for the FCC to move forward on finalizing our efforts to reform the rural health
care program. So have I. Coincidentally, tomorrow marks the second anniversary of the
FCC’s National Broadband Plan. As part of the implementation of that plan, the
Commission has already reformed some of the other USF programs on a piecemeal basis.
As I have said for quite some time, in a perfect world, I would have liked to have seen
comprehensive reform of all the USF spending programs completed at the same time as
well as reform of the contribution or the “taxing” side of the ledger. Consistent with my
long-standing advocacy for truly comprehensive reform, I will continue to press the
Commission to complete all of its reform efforts, including reform of the rural health care
program, as quickly as possible.
Thank you for inviting me to speak at your first annual summit. And, thank you
for your commitment to using technology that helps provide quality health care to those
who live in parts of our country that are the most difficult to reach.
I look forward to continue working with you, especially as the FCC works toward
reform of the USF rural health care program. And a special thanks to all of those
associated with Mr. Jefferson’s “Academical Village” for demonstrating such visionary
leadership in the telehealth arena.
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