Net neutrality and healthcare: Providers must take a stand

Healthcare needs leaders in the network neutrality debate who can bridge the needs of clinical practice and technology to ensure the Internet continues to serve the public good, according to a blog post at Health Affairs.

The Federal Communications Commission is considering allowing an Internet "fast lane" for companies willing to pay extra for it. Providers such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T are aware of what that would mean for them, but hospitals, cloud electronic health record vendors and academic institutions might not be, writes Mark Gaynor, an associate professor of health management at Saint Louis University, and colleagues.

Healthcare leaders need to get involved in this debate, first by determining how such a change would affect their organization and then by discussing it in their professional organizations and with elected leaders, the authors say.

They argue that some healthcare traffic should be considered a necessity to the public good and must be offered in a non-discriminatory manner, such as the way roads, water, electric utilities, and bridges are.

If some traffic gets priority, it should be health information during emergencies, they write, not to improve video streaming for Netflix.

Such a change would affect telemedicine services, including home wireless monitoring, the adoption of EHRs and use of patient portals, and access to health education for patients and providers.

Regulators have to determine how to treat different types of information, including healthcare's use of services. Without net neutrality, for instance, Verizon's Oncare home monitoring service could be at an advantage if its network performance outpaces those of competitors.

In rural areas especially, there's often only one Internet service provider, and a decreased level of service could have a huge impact on access to care there.

A paper published at the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association made a similar argument, calling net neutrality central to health information exchange.

In announcing the Connect2Health Task Force, to focus on better aligning broadband connectivity, advanced technology and health, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said that "the commission's top priority must be to make networks work for everyone."

To learn more:
- read the blog post