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View From the Hill: Wireless Technologies Are Empowering Patients, Making Healthcare More Accessible

By Grace Boatright, National Grange Legislative Director (View From The Hill Blog 9/26/12)

  SEPTEMBER 26, 2012 --

Medical experts and health care organizations have been touting the benefits of mHealth for some time now.  And for good reason: mHealth, or the use of mobile communications technologies and devices in health care, is poised to improve access to health care and to transform quality of care.  Wireless communications can help make health care and medical consultation more accessible and cost-effective for patients and their families.  Most importantly, mHealth is empowering patients to take more control, self-manage their chronic conditions and live healthier lives. 

In fact, mHealth is changing the way we think about and use our wireless communications devices. Smartphones and tablets can be essential health care tools that allow users to receive medical data from anywhere and to view medical records or images.  Medical professionals can use add-ons and apps to turn these devices into imaging tools or portable ultrasound machines.  And, of course, these mobile devices can improve communications between health care professionals and patients.  

  Patients have a number of options available to them via wireless technology.  Apps help people quit smoking, monitor chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, track weight loss and keep track of daily calorie intakes. Wireless health monitoring devices can collect and send data like blood pressure, respiratory rates, or blood glucose directly to doctors.  And exciting new innovations using wireless biosensors or wireless tracking devices can improve quality of life for people with many kinds of health conditions. 

Earlier this week, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) hosted an event entitled “Recommendations from the mHealth Task Force” during which participants discussed the potential of these technologies to revolutionize health care quality, access, and delivery.  The event was an opportunity to learn about mHealth and to identify ways to encourage the adoption and availability of these health care technologies. 

These innovations can improve both the delivery and quality of care for all patients, but particularly for those living in rural areas, where accessing health care can be a struggle.  Advances in mHealth technologies can also increase access to specialists.  But all of these wireless mHealth innovations run on spectrum, the invisible airwaves that make our cell phones, tablets, and smartphones work. 

The possibilities of mHealth are exciting, and the potential that this technology has to improve health and quality of life for rural Americans is vast.  But as of now, we just don’t have the necessary ingredients to accomplish these goals.  Access to high-speed wireless broadband is still not universal in this country, as rural Americans are well aware. Not only is our nation’s wireless network infrastructure lacking, but spectrum is in high demand.  In order to deliver reliable, fast wireless broadband service to people who need it, sufficient spectrum must be made available through any means necessary. 

At the ITIF event, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced that the agency will create an order by the end of the year to make spectrum available for health care testing beds, and that an order will be created to reform and modernize the rural health care program.  The FCC can play a critical role in helping to transform our country’s health care system by improving access to broadband, encouraging investment in those networks by adopting modern policies, and most importantly, by making more spectrum available via auctions and secondary market transactions.  But fast, decisive action is needed if Americans, including rural Americans, are to maximize the benefits that mHealth innovation offers.

-Guest  Blogger

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