Pandemic forces healthcare industry to expand telemedicine

Washington

WASHINGTON, D.C. (NEXSTAR) — Officials said there’s at least one silver lining to the pandemic—it’s forced the healthcare industry to quickly embrace telemedicine, expanding access to care for millions of Americans.

The Federal Communications Commission is dolling out millions of dollars to get patients better connected to their doctors.

So far, the FCC has given out nearly $33 million to almost 100 healthcare systems in 30 states.

“We’ve been very aggressive in getting that funding out the door by evaluating applications and we’ve gotten several hundred of them so far,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

Pai said the grant money from The CARES Act helps healthcare systems establish or expand their telehealth programs to deal with COVID-19.

“I think telehealth is having its moment,” he said.

Some say that’s an upside of the pandemic. Telehealth keeps sick patients out of offices where they could infect others. Plus, it expands health access into rural areas with limited care options.

“And that’s going to be critical, we want everybody, whether you’re in an urban or rural area, to be able to get healthcare, especially if it’s a connected care solution regardless of the type of situation your community is facing,” Pai said.

While the FCC decides which programs get the money, Pai said they’ll leave it up to each recipient to figure out how to use it.

“We want to give them the maximum flexibility to design that telehealth program to serve the patients in the way they see fit,” he said.

Pai also wants to rollback some regulations, which he says have limited the expansion of teleheath services.

“Providing healthcare across states lines,” he said as an example. “That traditionally has been one of the restrictions on telehealth, it has held back the promise of telehealth.”

The grants are issued on a rolling basis, with more expected to be approved in the coming weeks.

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