Approximately one week after the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) was signed into law, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a Report and Order adopting a $200 million telehealth program to support health care providers responding to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Congress appropriated the funds as part of the CARES Act, and the FCC’s Telehealth Program will enable health care providers to purchase telecommunications services, broadband connectivity, and devices necessary for providing telehealth services.
The FCC also adopted final rules to stand up a separate Connected Care Pilot Program (Pilot Program), which will provide up to $100 million of support from the Universal Service Fund (USF). The Pilot Program will defray health care providers’ costs of providing connected care services and will help the FCC assess how the USF can be used in the long-term to support telehealth. Each of these programs are summarized below.
The Telehealth Program will immediately support health care providers responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by providing $200 million in funding for telecommunications services, information services, and devices necessary to enable the provision of telehealth services, on a temporary basis. This includes support for services and/or devices that generate and transmit patient-reported outcomes from patients to health care providers. Services can include an end-user device (e.g., a smartphone or tablet) that allows a patient to report their health condition directly to a provider, independent or in conjunction with other connected medical monitoring devices.
The FCC broadly defines “connected care services” as a subset of telehealth that “uses broadband Internet access service-enabled technologies to deliver remote medical, diagnostic, patient-centered, and treatment-related services directly to patients outside of traditional brick and mortar medical facilities—including specifically to patients at their mobile location or residence.” Examples of such services include, but are not limited to, remote patient monitoring, patient health education, store and forward services (e.g., asynchronous transfer of patient images and data for interpretation by a physician), and synchronous video consultations and visits. The Telehealth Program will only fund monitoring devices (e.g., pulse-ox, BP monitoring devices), that are themselves connected, but not unconnected devices (e.g., devices that patients use at home and then share the results with their medical professional remotely).
The FCC will award support to eligible applicants based on the estimated costs of the supported services and connected devices they intend to purchase, as described in each health care provider’s respective application. To ensure as many applicants as possible receive available funding, the FCC states that it does not anticipate awarding more than $1 million to any single applicant.