On Friday, May 19th, the Senate Broadband Caucus hosted a briefing titled “Telehealth and the Delivery of 21st Century Care,” with support from the HIMSS Government Relations team. The Senate Broadband Caucus, a bipartisan group led by Senators King (I-ME), Capito (R-WV), Klobuchar (D-MN), Boozman (R-AR), and Heitkamp (D-ND), focuses on strengthening broadband infrastructure and deployment across the country to increase connectivity and close the digital divide. Tom Leary, Vice President of Government Relations at HIMSS, moderated the panel. Panelists included:
- Radhika Karmarkar, Deputy Division Chief, Telecommunications Access Policy Division, Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
- John Peters, Deputy Director for Telehealth Services, Office of Connected Care, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
- Matthew Quinn, Senior Adviser for Health Information Technology, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)
- John Windhausen, Executive Director, SHLB Coalition
The panel engaged in a robust dialogue on the growing importance of telehealth as a key instrument in the delivery of 21st century care, and the role that broadband plays as a critical enabler of telehealth and other health IT tools. With HRSA and VA covering many rural and underserved populations, both Matthew Quinn and John Peters discussed the successful deployment of telehealth services as a means of expanding access to care, especially in the case of the VA where they have had difficulty recruiting healthcare professionals in certain regions. While the panelists recognized the positive benefits of telehealth, they acknowledged unique challenges faced by parts of the country that lack access to affordable and reliable broadband.
Radhika Karmarkar provided a thorough update on the FCC’s Rural Health Care Program, which provides funding to support high-capacity broadband connectivity for eligible health care providers to improve the quality of healthcare available to patients in rural communities. Funding for the program, capped at $400 million annually, was exhausted for the first time last year partly due to a greater use of telemedicine by health care providers and a larger pool of applicants. John Windhausen advocated that $400 million is not sufficient for the program and noted that his organization filed a Petition for Rulemaking with the FCC asking for reforms to the program, including additional funding.
The briefing began with a short technology demonstration by the company EarlySense, and covered a range of topics within the telehealth sphere. These topics included the role telehealth and health IT play in dealing with public health emergencies, such as the ongoing opioid crisis, and how Congressional staff can act as a bridge between the various federal agencies and the constituents they serve in the healthcare community.