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Feds Support Broadband Access for Rural Providers

by Barbara Kram, Editor | February 12, 2008
Broadband is critical
to the growth of
telemedicine and to
supporting robust health
information technology
(IT) systems.
(Following is a fact sheet about a new broadband access initiative from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.)

Four years ago, President Bush articulated a national vision: universal, affordable access to broadband technology. The Department of Commerce released a report finding that, as a result of the Administration's policies to help broadband flourish, Americans today enjoy an increasing array of broadband services as prices continue to fall.

Broadband is critical to the growth of telemedicine and to supporting robust health information technology (IT) systems. Several HHS programs and priorities benefit from broadband, and HHS is working to continue to improve community access to it.

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HHS support for broadband access

In November, 2007, HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin J. Martin announced a coordinated effort to deploy broadband access to rural and underserved communities with a particular focus on reaching health care providers.

The FCC has awarded over $417 million for the construction of 69 statewide or regional broadband telehealth networks in 42 states and three U.S. territories. This Rural Health Care Pilot Program will support the connection of more than 6,000 public and non-profit health care providers nationwide to telehealth networks to improve patient care.

HHS health IT efforts rely on broadband

In 2004, President Bush set a goal for most Americans to have access to interoperable electronic health records by 2014. HHS is the lead agency responsible for meeting this goal and, since 2005, Secretary Leavitt has recognized 34 interoperability standards to streamline health information exchange. HHS has also helped to establish an independent certification commission that has tested and certified more than 75 percent of electronic health record (EHR) products installed in ambulatory health care settings and more than 25 percent of EHRs in inpatient settings.

These connected systems are the future of safer, more affordable health care in America, and they depend on broadband access. By enabling rapid exchange of large amounts of data, broadband has become a critical component of robust health (IT) systems. Information on HHS' health IT work is available here: www.hhs.gov/healthit.

HHS telemedicine efforts depend on the availability of broadband

Telemedicine, or Telehealth, programs improve patient access to care over great distances, which can reduce costs from unnecessary travel, enhance chronic illness management, and improve health outcomes by facilitating regular and preventive care.