April 10, 2014 - 11:32 am

Recently, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced the formation of a new task force – CONNECT2HEALTHFCC – that will focus on the critical intersection of broadband, advanced technology, and health with the singular goal of ensuring that advanced health care solutions are readily accessible to all Americans, from rural and remote areas to underserved inner cities.

We are excited about this new phase in the Commission’s efforts to promote and showcase broadband-enabled health solutions.  And, judging by the outpouring of interest we’ve received thus far from industry, academia, sister agencies, health professionals, and other stakeholders, you are too.

Michele has been on the job for just a few weeks and is knee-deep in setting up the Task Force.  Starting next week, we will begin meeting with stakeholders and giving the task force more form.  Suffice it to say the process will provide opportunities for broad and meaningful input.  Please stay tuned. 

In the meantime, please share your thoughts and ideas about structure, scope etc. here: connect2health@fcc.gov.  New meeting requests can be sent to engageC2H@fcc.gov.

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In this post, we want to focus briefly on one interesting facet of this puzzle – the potential of mobile health tools.    

One of the biggest game changers out there with the promise to dramatically improve patient outcomes, reduce health disparities, and lower costs is mobile health technology. 

Broadband-powered health tools hold the potential to be a great equalizer, especially in rural, poor and underserved communities.  A recent report from the National Health IT Collaborative for the Underserved identified key barriers to overcome including low health literacy, trust issues and the need for culturally and linguistically appropriate digital health tools.

While the FCC has made great strides in recent years, many digital health advances aren’t broadly available, widely utilized or well-tailored to meet the needs of all Americans.  Yet, their transformative power is inescapable.

For example, in one study on the use of telemedicine consultations in rural emergency rooms, the authors concluded that connecting with specialists via telemedicine allowed rural emergency department physicians to improve the accuracy and quality of medication administration among seriously ill and injured children. 

According to another recent study by IMS Health, use of these and other tools lags because too few health apps are designed to address the demographics with the greatest needs:

  • Patients over the age of 65 are among the top users of healthcare resources, yet app downloads are the lowest among this group.
  • Throughout the history of communications technology, accessibility for people with disabilities has often been an afterthought.  Retrofitting health tools to make them accessible for people with disabilities may prove to be costly and ineffective.
  • And, while 87% of African American mothers showed a strong interest in receiving health information via mobile phones, the study found that only about 18% of them used text messages to share health information.

Bottom line:  a closer collaboration between the developers of digital health tools and their intended users will yield not only more useful, usable and accessible digital health tools but also opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship in an area of great need.

The FCC’s new CONNECT2HEALTHFCC Task Force will seek to facilitate this collaboration in mobile health IT and other similar areas.  We look forward to working with a broad cross-section of stakeholders in this critical effort.

To learn more about FCC's ongoing healthcare initiatives, please visit www.fcc.gov/health.