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Internet unburdened by regulation can do great things for healthcare delivery by Tom Gurr

In this divisive election, the debate over the cost of providing healthcare is top of mind among many voters. But while slogans and sound bites reign supreme over this important issue, there have been exciting new developments that will help the future of delivering high-quality healthcare to everyone at affordable cost. Twenty-first century technology can address old healthcare problems. Beyond promising advances in medical science, including testing and treatment, technology offers the opportunity to streamline costly administration and to remotely connect people to better health today. The technology offering the greatest improvement in healthcare is Internet technology. Modern high-speed communications networks based on the Internet are enabling the digitization of health records, driving new efficiencies in the operation of medical practices, hospitals and community clinics. This means quality care for more patients at lower costs. Advances in our nation’s communications network create dramatic new treatment options. For example, patients living in rural communities with limited or no access to specialists can go to their local community clinic and be examined by a specialist hundreds of miles away thanks to Internet-based video conferencing services. A modern communications network allows all kinds of devices to communicate and send content ranging from voice to video to MRI results across the Internet. The options enabled today by modern networks reflect the success of government’s largely hands-off approach to Internet regulation. Minimal regulation has encouraged maximum private investment and innovation in the national communications infrastructure. At one time, the network was designed around the comparatively simple requirement of carrying rotary telephone calls, but infrastructure has morphed to accommodate the demand for a vast array of uses. Today, voice calls are delivered alongside the practical and the silly. As this conversion continues, it is essential that we maintain the policy of light touch Internet regulation and not burden modern networks with outdated regulations from the voice era. Washington has a major stake in seeing mobile health care realize its full potential. As the Seattle Times reported in June the gap between the number of people and the number of health care providers is much wider in rural areas. That’s because so many physicians are clustered in the Seattle area. About 40 percent of the 5,498 primary care doctors in Washington practice in King County, according to a state survey cited by the Times. But modern advances in communications technology can help to narrow the gap for rural patients. In the central Washington communities of Othello, Mattawa and Connell, the Columbia Basin Health Association (CBHA) serves 25,000 patients with medical, dental and pharmacy services regardless of patients’ ability to pay. CBHA was recently recognized by the federal government as a prime example of using Internet enabled information technology to improve the efficiency and quality of healthcare for rural communities. One of the first community health centers in the U.S. to fully digitize its medical records, CBHA has leveraged that capacity to treat diabetes, one of the chronic diseases that disproportionately strike rural populations. Using its computerized records, CBHA began tracking diabetes patients and substantially improved the percentage of patients getting their recommended periodic testing. CBHA has also used digital systems to make more efficient use of time for doctors and patients. Success stories like this remind us of how modern communications networks can improve healthcare. And as long as we don’t stifle investment and innovation by slapping unnecessary regulations on the Internet, nothing stands in the way of more efficient, more thorough health care in the 21st century.

Categories Articles, Blog, Broadband Revolution, Featured Story, Next Generation Networks, Opinions, Rural Access | Tags: | Posted on September 26, 2012

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