Over the years, the FCC has been active in implementing Congressional mandates, collaborating with other federal agencies (e.g., the FDA), and developing rules and policies that support adoption of broadband-enabled health care solutions and the development and availability of health-related technologies for all Americans. In addition, the Commission has a long history of addressing spectrum needs for the development of medical devices, and in facilitating innovation and entrepreneurship.
Below is a list of significant FCC actions and activities concerning efforts to foster the development of healthcare technology and to improve the quality of health care for all Americans:
Rural Health Care Program Funding: In June 2018, the FCC announced that they would provide a significant budgetary boost for this program to address immediate and long-term funding shortages driven by growing demand for rural telemedicine services. The FCC increased the annual cap on program spending by nearly 43 percent, to $571 million, which will reverse across-the-board spending cuts for the current funding year imposed by the old cap.
Public Notice: On April 24, 2017, the Connect2HealthFCC Task Force issued the Public Notice titled FCC Seeks Comment and Data on Actions To Accelerate Adoption and Accessibility of Broadband-Enabled Health Care Solutions and Advanced Technologies and is requesting comments, data, and information on a broad range of regulatory, policy, technical and infrastructure issues related to the emerging broadband-enabled health and care ecosystem.
Virtual Listening Sessions: In August and September 2017, the Connect2HealthFCC Task Force convened several virtual listening sessions to more efficiently facilitate targeted input on broadband health issues (including on the rural/urban gap and other digital divide issues) from non-traditional stakeholders and those outside the Washington, DC area. his effort specifically related to the Task Force’s development of recommendations on critical regulatory, policy, technical, and infrastructure issues concerning the emerging broadband-enabled health and care ecosystem described in the April 24, 2017, Public Notice issued in GN Docket No. 16-46.
Broadband Cancer Collaboration: The Connect2HealthFCC Task Force and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) entered into a Memoradum of Understanding to convene key stakeholders around a public-private partnership to help bridge the broadband health connectivity gap in Appalachia. This collaboration, announced in December 2017, will study how increasing broadband access and adoption in rural areas can help address the burden of symptom management for cancer patients. The initial geographic focus is planned for rural Kentucky. Current project stakeholders include the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center (a NCI-designated cancer center), the University of California, San Diego’s Design Lab, and Amgen.
Mapping Broadband Health in America: In August 2016, Connect2HealthFCC Task Force released the Mapping Broadband Health in America platform, which allows users to visualize, overlay and analyze broadband and health data at the national, state and county levels. The maps are an interactive experience, enabling detailed study of the intersection between connectivity and health for every county in the United States. As telehealth, telemedicine, and other cutting-edge mHealth initiatives gain momentum across the country, this web-based mapping platform enables more efficient, data-driven decision making at the intersection of broadband and health. The resulting maps can be used by both public and private sectors, and local communities, to identify opportunities and gaps in connectivity and care. This platform is updated on an annual basis.
Wireless Testbeds Workshop: In March 2015, the Connect2HealthFCC Task Force and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hosted 'Promoting Medical Technology Innovation - The Role of Wireless Test Beds." The workshop convened experts from industry, medicine, academia, and government to focus on the role of wireless medical test beds and their influence on the development of converged medical technology for clinical and non-clinical settings.
Efforts to Further Streamline Equipment Authorization Program: FCC issues Report and Order to amend its radiofrequency (RF) equipment certification rules to further streamline the process for bringing products to the market, including medical devices. Previously, the FCC empowered Telecommunications Certification Bodies (TCBs) in the United States and other parts of the world to certify most radio products, while certain devices could only be certified by the FCC. Under the new rules, TCBs will process all applications for certification.
Medical Body Area Network: FCC issues Order on Reconsideration and Second Report and Order in an effort to take further action to foster the development and deployment of new and innovative Medical Body Area Network (MBAN) devices. MBAN users also afforded additional flexibility to enable the implementation of technical standards for devices.
FCC-FDA-ONC Collaboration - FDASIA Health IT Report: Proposed strategy and recommendations on appropriate, risk-based regulatory framework pertaining to health information technology, including mobile medical applications, that promotes innovation, protects patient safety, and avoids regulatory duplication.
Connect2HealthFCC Task Force Formed: Formation of Connect2HealthFCC Task Force announced. Task Force to focus on the critical intersection of broadband, advanced technology, and health with the primary goal of ensuring that advanced health care solutions are readily accessible to all Americans.
Beyond the Beltway Series: The Connect2HealthFCC’s Beyond the Beltway Series explores how communities are leveraging broadband technologies and next-generation communications services to improve access to health and care services throughout the country, especially in rural and underserved areas.
mHealth Innovation Expo: Event showcases mobile health products, solutions, and resources for mobile health pioneers and entrepreneurs.
Experimental Licenses: Commission streamlines its rules to modernize the Experimental Radio Service (ERS) by establishing a more flexible framework to keep pace with the speed of modern technological changes while continuing to provide an environment where creativity can thrive. Commission creates three new types of ERS licenses, including one for medical testing.
Healthcare Connect Fund: FCC establishes Healthcare Connect Fund (HCF) to expand health care provider access to broadband, especially in rural areas, and encourages the creation of state and regional broadband health care networks.
Summit on mHealth: Announces FCC plans to act on recommendations from mHealth Task Force report; discusses promise of mobile devices to improve health care and lower costs, including suggestions to foster innovation.
mHealth Task Force: mHealth Task Force findings and recommendations issued.
Medical Body Area Networks: FCC releases Order to allocate spectrum for Medical Body Area Networks (MBANs), making the U.S. the first country in the world to make spectrum available for this specific usage. MBANs are networks of wireless sensors, often no bigger than a Band-Aid, which can transmit data on a patient’s vital health indicators to their doctor or hospital.
Implantable Medical Devices: FCC adopts rules to enable a new generation of wireless medical devices (i.e., Medical Micropower Networks (MMNs)) that can used to restore functions to paralyzed limbs. MMNs are ultra-low power wideband networks consisting of transmitters implanted in the body that takes the place of damaged nerves, restoring sensation and mobility.
Actions Taken to Increase Broadband Access for All Americans: FCC announces various actions take to increase access to broadband and telecommunications services for all Americans, including an NPRM that will help promote persons’ with disabilities access to advanced communications services, as well as various actions to improve communications services for Native Nations.
FCC-FDA Memorandum of Understanding: FCC and FDA work together to ensure that communications-related medical innovations can swiftly and safely be brought to market.
National Broadband Plan: FCC releases National Broadband Plan, which includes a chapter on broadband-enabled health IT solutions.
New Rules Adopted for Advanced Medical Technologies: Commission issues Report and Order, allocating spectrum for the Medical Device Radiocommunications Service (MedRadio) and adopts technical rules for innovative new body-worn and implanted medical radio devices that can provide a variety of diagnostic and therapeutic functions from diabetes and heart monitors to pacemakers and defibrillators.
Rural Health Care Pilot Program: FCC establishes Rural Health Care Pilot Program to support state and regional broadband networks designed to bring the benefits of telemedicine and telehealth services to areas of the country where they are most needed.
Internet Access Program: FCC adds Rural Health Care Internet Access Program to provide a 25 percent discount off the cost of monthly Internet access.
Wireless Medical Telemetry (Remote Monitoring): FCC establishes Wireless Medical Telemetry Service (WMTS) by allocating 14 MHz of spectrum for wireless medical telemetry. WMTS spectrum is used for remote monitoring of a patient’s health. WMTS systems include devices to measure patients' vital signs and other important health parameters (e.g., pulse and respiration rates) and devices that transport the data via a radio link to a remote location, such as a nurses' station, equipped with a specialized radio receiver. For example, wireless cardiac monitors are often used to monitor patients following surgery.
Medical Implant Communications Service: FCC responds to advances in medical implant technology by establishing the Medical Implant Communication Service (MICS) within Part 95 of its Rules. FCC sets aside three megahertz of spectrum, at 402-405 MHz, on a licensed-by-rule basis expressly for allowing physicians to establish high-speed, easy-to-use, short-range wireless links between ultra-low power medical implant transmitters and their associated programmer/control equipment. Examples of such implant devices include cardiac pacemakers and defibrillators that also monitor and report heart conditions.
Rural Health Care Telecommunications Program Established (zip file): FCC issues Universal Service Order, which includes the establishment of the Telecommunications Program, ensuring that eligible rural health care providers (HCPs) pay no more than their urban counterparts for telecommunications services. Through this program, eligible rural HCPs can obtain rates for supported services that are no higher than the highest tariffed or publicly available commercial rate for a similar service in the closest city in the state with a population of 50,000 or more people, taking distance charges into account.
Telecommunications Act of 1996: Congress directs FCC "to encourage the deployment on a reasonable and timely basis of advanced telecommunications capability for all Americans; also, to provide rural HCPs with "an affordable rate for the services necessary for the provision of telemedicine and instruction relating to such services."