NCI and the FCC are teaming up
to increase access to broadband
connectivity for cancer care in
rural areas

FCC and NCI team up to expand broadband access to cancer care in rural Kentucky

December 26, 2017
by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) are teaming up to enhance cancer care in rural communities by providing greater access to broadband technology.

The FCC’s Connect2Health Task Force (C2HFCCC) has entered a public-private collaboration with NCI under a signed memorandum of understanding to address high mortality rates and low levels of broadband access among rural communities in Appalachia, starting with rural Kentucky. The name of the project is L.A.U.N.C.H. (Linking and Amplifying User-Centered Networks through Connected Health): A Demonstration of Broadband-Enabled Health for Rural Populations in Appalachia.

“The purpose of enabling a ‘Connected Health’ approach to patient care is to provide an electronic safety net for all of our patients,” Bradford Hesse, chief of the Health Communications and Informatics Research Branch in the Behavioral Research Program for the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences at NCI, told HCB News. “That is, to ‘close the ‘loop’ in our ability to respond to our patients’ at ‘point of need’ and not just at ‘point of care.’”

Americans living in rural areas are more likely to die from cancer compared to those in urban settings, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research shows that rural cancer hotspots face major limitations in broadband access and adoption, making it more difficult to obtain necessary care.

L.A.U.N.C.H will focus on developing ideas for how to leverage broadband connectivity for the improvement of symptom management for rural cancer patients, with the first year geared toward figuring out needs and requirements followed by implementation in subsequent years.

NCI will examine how to better assist patients in managing symptoms during treatment, while C2HFCCC will devote its resources toward determining how broadband connectivity can help in this endeavor in areas such as bridging distance and time gaps, connecting with specialists remotely and addressing the lack of primary and specialist physicians in rural areas.

The decision for the project to take place in Appalachia stems from research conducted by the University of Virginia School of Medicine, which found a decline in cancer incidents in every region across the U.S. except rural Appalachia between 1969 and 2011. Mortality rates also rose dramatically there during that time.

The project consists of various stakeholders and includes cancer experts, researchers, technologists and industry representatives from the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center (a NCI-designated cancer center), the University of California, San Diego’s Design Lab and Amgen.

"We see broadband as an enabler for connected health technologies to address the cancer burden in rural parts of the country, like Appalachia, that face a disproportionate burden of cancer mortality," Dr. David Ahern, special advisor, health information technology to the FCC's Connect2Health Task Force, told HCB News. "We're working closely with the Markey Cancer Center and others to put the patient at the center and to better understand how broadband access and adoption can help with the management of cancer symptoms and the effects of treatment. By working together, we can make a difference for cancer patients, starting in rural Kentucky."

L.A.U.N.C.H is currently set to take place over a period of three-to-five years.