It started as a directive from Congress to the Federal Communications Commission: Create a plan that ensures every American can access broadband capability, with healthcare as one of seven key focus areas. That was early 2009. Today, the FCC is pushing forward a National Broadband Plan—though as the plan’s executive summary states, it’s in beta, ever-changing, “like the Internet itself.”
“Broadband is necessary for these transformations in three ways,” the plan states. “First, it enables efficient exchange of patient and treatment information by allowing providers to access patients’ electronic health records from on-site or hosted locations. Second, it removes geography and time as barriers to care by enabling video consultation and remote patient monitoring. Third, broadband provides the foundation for the next generation of health innovation and connected-care solutions.”
Score one point for telestroke, says Lee Schwamm, MD, director of telestroke and acute stroke services at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He says implementing a plan that seamlessly connects healthcare delivery centers regardless of location could, overnight, eradicate a huge entry barrier to this type of care. In the past, “the goal was to deliver electricity to the entire population,” he says. “This National Broadband Plan is an effort to do the same thing for Internet access, so that inequities in access to information do not translate to inequities in access to care.”
Baylor College of Medicine physicians at Houston’s St. Luke’s Hospital often use laptops to provide telestroke consultations. Most of the time, they connect easily, but sometimes, the connection fails, forcing a consult to conclude over the phone, says Sarah Livesay, MSN, RN, ACNP, manager of the hospital’s neuroscience clinical programs. “It’s less than 5% of the time that the doctors have to abandon the audiovisual,” she says. “But if you’re a patient in the 5%, it matters a lot.” With increased bandwidth, the National Broadband Plan could change that, meaning fewer dropped calls and videos. That means better patient care.