The FCC, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Tuesday signed an agreement to work together on the Rural Telehealth Initiative, an effort to collaborate and share information to address health disparities, resolve service provider challenges, and promote broadband services and technology to rural areas. The action delivers on President Trump’s recently signed Executive Order on Improving Rural Health and Telehealth Access.
Rural Americans are acutely affected by gaps in the healthcare system, from hospital closures to a lack of specialty care. Telemedicine plays an increasingly critical part in treating patients, improving health outcomes, lowering costs, and helping health care providers maximize their impact on their communities, especially in rural areas.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called telemedicine a game-changer: “The COVID-19 pandemic has made the rural healthcare challenge even more serious and has complicated healthcare providers’ efforts to serve rural Americans. More than ever, these areas of the country need enhanced connectivity to provide vital health services to residents.”
Pai noted Congress’ adoption of the $200 million COVID-19 Telehealth Program, and the agency’s quick action to approve 539 funding applications for a wide array of healthcare providers, including community health centers, mental health clinics, and non-profit hospital systems in both rural and urban areas of the country.
“This effort allowed for more patients to be treated at home, freeing up valuable hospital beds for those who most need them, and reducing the risk of exposure to the virus,” said Pai. “By joining forces with HHS and USDA, the FCC is extending its commitment to connect rural Americans to telehealth services—today and into the future.”