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  • Reform Expands Health Information Exchange, Telehealth Capabilities to Rural Areas; Has Potential to Reduce Medicaid Costs

    The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently released a final rule reforming its universal service support program for health care. Specifically, the rule transitions FCC's existing Internet Access and Rural Health Care Pilot programs into a new Healthcare Connect Fund. This fund will expand health care provider access to broadband, especially in rural areas, and encourage the creation of state and regional broadband health care networks.

    In the rule, FCC notes that "Whether it is used for transmitting electronic health records, sending X-rays, MRIs, and CAT scans to specialists at a distant hospital, or for video conferencing for telemedicine or training, access to broadband for medical providers saves lives while lowering health care costs and improving patient experiences." In particular, FCC acknowledges the role of telemedicine in helping patients with stroke avoid lasting damage.

    The final rule also includes examples of how telehealth applications save health care providers money. For example, a South Carolina provider consortium funded by the Commission's Rural Health Care Pilot Program saved $18 million in Medicaid costs through telepsychiatry provided at hospital emergency rooms. Another pilot project in the Midwest saved $1.2 million in patient transport costs after establishing an electronic intensive care unit program, known as "e-ICU."

    APTA will post a summary of the rule in the near future to www.apta.org.

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