FCC to hire healthcare director, step up health efforts

By: Brian Dolan | Sep 25, 2012        

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Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsThe Federal Communications Commission (FCC) held a public briefing this week with its mHealth Task Force, which formed just this past June to work with various other healthcare professionals and technologists to create a report full of “concrete” next steps that the FCC (and other agencies) can take to facilitate the adoption and acceleration of mHealth in the United States. The task force co-chairs are Julian Goldman, Medical Director of Biomedical Engineering, Partners Healthcare System; Robert Jarrin, Senior Director of Government Affairs, Qualcomm; and Douglas Trauner, CEO, TheCarrot.com.

The task force’s report, which it made public this week, offers about two dozen recommendations for the FCC, including the suggestion that the commission hire a permanent director of healthcare.

The report outlines five macro goals that it suggests the FCC take on and breaks out the more than two dozen specific suggestions under these:

Goal 1: FCC should continue to play a leadership role in advancing mobile health adoption.
Goal 2: Federal agencies should increase collaboration to promote innovation, protect patient safety, and avoid regulatory duplication.
Goal 3: The FCC should build on existing programs and link programs when possible in order to expand broadband access for healthcare.
Goal 4: The FCC should continue efforts to increase capacity, reliability, interoperability, and RF safety of mHealth technologies.
Goal 5: Industry should support continued investment, innovation, and job creation in the growing mobile health sector.

Under the first goal, the task force recommends that the FCC fill its open position for a healthcare director.

During his remarks, FCC Julius Genachowski recognized the West Health Institute’s director of public policy Kerry McDermott who was in attendance at the briefing. McDermott previously led the FCC’s healthcare efforts and helped Mo Kaushal and Spencer Hutchins write the healthcare chapter in the FCC’s National Broadband Plan. Following the National Broadband Plan’s publication all three of them left the FCC to join the then-named West Wireless Health Institute. Last summer the American Telemedicine Association published an open letter to the FCC criticizing the agency for going “silent” on healthcare since the publication of its National Broadband Plan. In its letter the ATA also noted “the departure of every key professional staff from the Commission involved in healthcare policy.”

The task force also recommends that the FCC other agencies should improve educational outreach activities to healthcare organizations; launch a healthcare website; and establish the task force as a formal interagency external working group.

Under its second goal for the FCC and other agencies, the task force suggests that the FCC work with other agencies to develop a standard, overarching definition for mHealth and other eCare technologies so the discussion can get beyond confusion around terms and onto more productive topics. It also suggests that the FCC work with ONC on some meaningful use provisions, including secure health messaging and communication standards. The task force also recommends that the Secretary of HHS convene a formal working group as permitted under the recent FDA modernization act, which passed Congress earlier this year.

Under its third goal, the task force asks the FCC to expand awareness for the Rural Health Care program and explore whether wireless technology should be better leveraged by that program. The FCC should also let consortiums of healthcare providers apply to the Rural Health Care program instead of just individual healthcare facilities. The FCC’s Lifeline program should also support fixed and mobile broadband services and as the program adds that level of connectivity the FCC should add healthcare services to it.

On the spectrum allocation front, the group recommends that the FCC continue to allocate wireless spectrum to meet overall needs, but the FCC should also work with international regulators like those in Mexico to help harmonize spectrum allocations across borders to ensure wireless-enabled medical devices and services work cross-borders. The FCC should also help create wireless test beds for new healthcare devices and modify SAR testing requirements for medical devices, according to the group.

Interestingly, the group also suggests that the FCC evaluate and make recommendations about issues surrounding affordable connectivity and compatibility with home telehealth devices, which sometimes require access technologies like broadband that are not installed in the home.

Finally, the task force recommends that the industry adopts standards for the transmission of authenticated health information, offers secure and trusted APIs for connecting third party devices into EHRs and HIEs, works to accelerate mobile health through public-private partnerships like the task force itself.

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  • Soapbox Jill

    Healthcare using mobile is moot for people who have Radiofrequency Sickness and cannot use mobile equipment without ill effects. You leave out at least 3-5% of the population who are sensitive, and the numbers are growing as RF levels rise. Emissions from expanded wireless broadband and wireless healthcare equipment risk not only health but security. Fiber optic would be a lasting, secure and safe system in comparison.

    Both wireless radiofrequency signal mixtures and chronic long-term exposures were never vetted for biological safety. Evidence gives reason for concern. To promote this unproven technology for healthcare is ever so ironic and sad.

    FCC has no RF limits for anything but microwave heating level emissions, despite the fact that RF radiation is used in very controlled and focused ways in healthcare to kill tumors, etc. It has various biological effects and is capable of interfering with normal cellular and system functions, electrical signalling and rhythms, as per over 1800 recent studies cited by the 2012 BioInitiative Report (and hosts of earlier studies compiled for the government).

    Mobile health fit the current wireless fad but a time of reckoning is inevitable. Even if risk of harm would only be 50% is it ethical to thrust it on the general public before testing the combinations of signals and chronic exposure impacts on biological life?

    Finally, FCC is failing to even enforce its microwave heating limits at cell tower sites. The EMR Policy Institue took video footage of measurements using the same kind of equipment used by the FCC. This agency is not a health agency but a tech agency. Its power has run rampant putting Americans at risk. One can only hope that the healthcare industry has a heart and a soul, and the ethical fortitude to put the brakes on this dangerous, unvetted technology, and “First Do No Harm” to the patients.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matthewholt Matthew Holt

    Hired! Matt Quinn–was at NIIST, before that AHRQ and way back when worked with me (has clearly gone on to better things!)

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