Additionally, by restructuring the terms of the program for healthcare consortia, the FCC projects that the new fund could lower the cost of robust broadband healthcare networks by as much as half. The fund will also channel as much as $50 million over a three-year period to support high-speed broadband service at skilled nursing facilities.
How Broadband Helps Healthcare
The FCC cites Barton Memorial Hospital in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., as an example of how grant funding has broadened access to specialists. At that hospital, which has received Universal Service funding from the FCC, medical staffers "are using broadband to enable remote examination through a live IP video feed and a relatively inexpensive telemedicine cart." That way, Barton can offer patients access to outside experts in areas such as cardiology, infectious disease and neurology, areas of practice in which the hospital has no in-house specialists.
The new fund seeks to expand those types of telemedicine offerings, as well as support for the exchange of electronic health records. The FCC says that it will cover 65% of the cost of a new broadband deployment or upgrade for successful grant applicants, leaving the remaining 35% to the healthcare provider.
The Healthcare Connect Fund will also encourage the development of state and regional consortia comprised of individual healthcare providers that can improve their bargaining position by banding together with other facilities. The FCC says that consortia must be primarily rural in their makeup in order to be eligible for funding.
Other providers eligible for the program include public or not-for-profit hospitals, rural health clinics, community health centers and educational institutions such as medical schools and teaching hospitals.
Kenneth Corbin is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who covers government and regulatory issues for CIO.com.
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