Three years ago, the FCC launched its Rural Health Care Pilot Program to learn how best to fill an important need: providing broadband connections to isolated rural health clinics. The need is very real. Broadband can provide rural health clinics with real-time consultation, diagnostics, training and other services from big-city teaching hospitals and specialists over high-capacity Internet lines. That can save lives, time, & money while improving health care in remote areas. But the robust networks needed to support these services are often lacking. So the Pilot Program set out to learn how to make these networks available, using hands-on experience from 62 pilot projects.
This week, I had the pleasure of joining California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra at the launch of the second-largest of the 62 projects, the California Telehealth Network. With funding from the FCC and a 15% match from the California Emerging Technology Fund, the project will initially build a network backbone and connect 50 health care facilities in the state. Ultimately, the project will around 800 facilities in remote and Tribal areas.
This project is a model of what the FCC is trying to foster across the country. Comprised of a consortium led by the University of California Office of the President and the U.C. Davis Health System, the California Telehealth Network worked with small, regional telehealth operations around the state to forge a unified project. In the end, organizers almost doubled the number of providers on the network, and effectively demonstrated how the FCC can play a positive role in advancing state health networks.
We have learned a lot from this project and from leaders like Dr. Thomas Nesbitt from U.C. Davis, and CTN Director Eric Brown. We will be applying these lessons as we develop a new Rural Health Care Program to replace the Pilot, and hope to do an even better job of supporting this increasingly important component of health care at remote hospitals and clinics across the country.