With America’s aging population and changing demographics set to outpace the number of available primary care providers, the Federal Communications Commission sees broadband technology as a saving grace for the nation’s increasingly overburdened healthcare system.

By 2030, 71 million Americans--one out of every five--will be over the age of 65 with 20 million of them more than 80 years old. Compounding the problem is that 80 percent of seniors have at least one chronic disease and another 50 percent suffer from two to five chronic illnesses. Add the fact that only about 300,000 to 400,000 primary care providers are projected to be available to care for this aging population, and the healthcare challenges on the horizon appear to be daunting.  

“It is a challenge to see how every individual will be able to receive the care they need over the course of their lifetime without enhanced reliance on broadband-enabled digital tools and technologies,” said FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT’s Consumer Health IT Summit, held Sept. 15 in Washington. “Broadband-enabled solutions can help communities better manage chronic disease, address language barriers, improve health literacy, ensure that our veterans adjust and thrive, and help improve overall population health and wellness.”

“The technologies that hold the most promise in improving health and healthcare depend on the availability of the broadband that we support, the spectrum that we regulate, and the equipment that we authorize,” added Clyburn, who sees opportunities in particular to connect rural and remote areas to specialists and support services that would otherwise be unavailable. However, the FCC’s vision is to also scale broadband-enabled healthcare services beyond these isolated “pockets” to the entire country.

In March, the FCC announced creation of a task force to "bring together the expertise of the FCC on the critical intersection of broadband, advanced technology, and health." Called Connect2HealthFCC, the task force will consider ways to accelerate the adoption of healthcare technologies by leveraging broadband and other next-generation communications services.

“Connect2Health is the umbrella for all health-related activities at the FCC--a force multiplier, if you will, as we continue to chart the broadband future of healthcare,” said Clyburn. “Over the coming months, you will be hearing much more about how we plan to move the broadband health dialogue forward.”

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