Federal Communications Commission

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Health Care Connectivity White Paper

August 30th, 2010 by Kerry McDermott

Imagine a world where your electronic health record contains a video from an upper GI endoscopy and your follow up consultation occurs via video link. Practitioners are collecting and sharing greater amounts and types of data, as well as engaging patients in new ways. The more data that need to flow through the health care system, the bigger the pipes needed and the better they need to perform. But some health care providers face a connectivity gap – meaning the mass-market broadband infrastructure available to them is beneath a certain bandwidth threshold.

Last week, we published a paper on the connectivity analysis in the Health Care section of the National Broadband Plan. This paper explains the methodology and underlying assumptions used to determine the broadband connectivity gap for health care providers ranging from solo physician practices to hospitals. The gap matters because it affects doctors’ ability to move data and use health IT solutions that can help them better treat their patients. It also affects patients’ ability to access care – especially specialty care.

This analysis is a starting point for figuring out how big the pipes need to be and where they’re lacking. Based on extensive input from industry on the types of health IT solutions and the bandwidth and performance measures needed to support them, we profiled different health IT usage scenarios across various delivery settings and created some connectivity guidelines. We then matched these guidelines against the available mass-market infrastructure to identify potential connectivity gaps.

Due to the limitations of currently available data, the model is only able to estimate available infrastructure and does not address price disparities. Although comprehensive availability and actual purchase data at the provider level are not currently available, we hope the federal government will work together to get such data, as recommended in the National Broadband Plan.

Not withstanding, the value of the model is that it helps us understand that certain segments of providers face greater challenges than others in securing adequate infrastructure to support health care delivery. It also informs our efforts for targeted follow up and enables us to work with partners across government to quantify actual provider-level connectivity. We hope to build on this initial analysis to ensure that every doctor has the broadband infrastructure needed to provide the highest quality care for his or her patients.

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