$400 million FCC fund to bolster rural telemedicine networks

The Federal Communications Commission announced this week that it will make up to $400 million available to healthcare providers in order to create and expand telemedicine networks nationwide, linking urban medical centers to rural clinics while providing greater access to medical specialists and instant access to electronic health records. 

Part of the FCC's new Healthcare Connect Fund, the financial investment is meant to "build on the success" of the FCC's Rural Healthcare pilot program and "expand the Commission's healthcare broadband initiative from pilot to permanent program." The FCC said it will begin accepting applications for the Healthcare Connect Fund beginning later this summer, and expects to bring thousands of new providers across the country into the program. It also expects to allow thousands more to upgrade their network connections.

"For years, the FCC's primary healthcare program made it difficult for hospitals serving rural patients to get high bandwidth connections needed for modern telemedicine by limiting the services eligible for funding, and by making it hard for consortia to effectively bargain for the lowest cost service," the FCC announcement states. "These transformational changes build on major FCC reforms across the universal service system."

According to the FCC, the Healthcare Connect Fund could cut the cost of broadband healthcare networks in half, through group purchases by consortia and other efficiencies. The fund will provide a 65 percent discount on broadband services, equipment and connections to research and education networks, and healthcare provider-constructed and owned facilities (if shown to be the most cost-effective connectivity option), while requiring a 35 percent HCP contribution.

To be eligible for the funding, applicants must be public or not-for-profit hospitals, rural health clinics, community health centers, health centers serving migrants, community mental health centers, local health departments or agencies, post-secondary educational institutions/teaching hospitals/medical schools, or a consortia of the above.

Last month, FierceHealthIT reported that the FCC earmarked up to $400 million for the new Healthcare Connect Fund. At the time, it also reported the Commission's plans for a new three-year $50 million pilot program to test how to support broadband connections for skilled nursing facilities, which was confirmed in the Jan. 7 FCC announcement.

To learn more:
- read the FCC announcement