Government // Leadership
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3/17/2010
10:41 AM
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FCC: Broadband Key To Healthcare IT Initiatives

Expanding the nation's broadband infrastructure will improve electronic medical record delivery and lower healthcare IT costs, report says.

Extending the U.S. broadband infrastructure would significantly improve the development of electronic medical records, while reducing costs and saving hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming decades, a federal report shows.

The National Broadband Plan which was published by the Federal Communications Commission and mandated in last year's stimulus bill, says improvements in broadband technology and its delivery provides the necessary foundation upon which the current heath care system's technological transformation depends.

According to the report, broadband supports the efficient exchange of patient and treatment information and allows medical providers access to patients' electronic health records (EHRs) from on-site or hosted locations. By enabling video consultation and remote patient monitoring, broadband removes geography and time as barriers. Additionally, broadband provides the underpinnings for the next generation of health innovation and connected-care solutions.

However, while the importance of Broadband to health IT is emphasized, barriers to its adoption are also highlighted in the report.

For example, the document sheds light on the misaligned incentives that exist between those who benefit most from using the electronic exchange of medical information and those who are burdened with the implementation costs.

"Providers are expected to pay for equipment and training and adjust to altered workflows. These costs often outweigh the direct benefits they can reasonably expect to gain in terms of reimbursement for services facilitated by health IT. As a result, hospitals and physicians cite funding and unclear investment returns as major barriers to electronic health record adoption," the report says.

The document also spells out the current status of broadband use, the costs involved and the connectivity disparity that exists between different ethnic groups and geographies. According to the report, there are two choices of broadband service currently being offered to physician offices. These are: "mass-market "small business" solutions or Dedicated Internet Access (DIA), such as T-1 or Gigabit Ethernet service. DIA solutions include broader and stricter Service Level Agreements (SLAs) by network operators. DIA services are substantially more expensive than mass-market packages.

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