GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - Chairman of the Federal Communication Commission Ajit Pai discussed the future of virtual and telemedicine health care with staff at St. Mary's Medical Center Tuesday evening.
"Virtual health is a significant part of the future of health care." said Dr. Brian Davidson, the President of St. Mary's in Grand Junction, "These are the things we need to be doing."
The up and coming way of health care treatment involves doctors and other health care provider speaking and analyzing patients via phone, internet, video chat or virtual imaging. All of which includes a telecommunication line, preferably high-speed internet.
"One of the biggest hurdles that is in the FCC's purview is connectivity. The telemedicine application is only as strong as the digital connections between communities." said Pai in a press conference.
St. Mary's has been dabbling in remote and virtual care. Across their coverage areas of western Colorado and eastern Utah, high-speed internet comes at a premium, an often cost-prohibitive one.
Video chatting with patients can underline the importance of a stable connection, as an interruption of service when a health care professional may be delivering a life-altering diagnosis is unacceptable, according to Davidson.
"It needs to be reliable because, the last thing you want is that visit in a high acuity situation to be interrupted."
The biggest hurdle for high-speed internet in rural areas of Colorado, almost literally, are the mountains. Getting infrastructure, such as fiber-optic cables, around, through or above mountain ranges can be expensive, and again, sometimes cost-prohibitively so.
Pai has a few plans to address the problem he discussed Tuesday, one being a plethora of low-orbiting satellites.
The other would increase funding for the Rural Health Care Program by over $500 million (43% increase, according to Pai) and increasing the Universal Service Subsidy to $10 Billion each year.
"We want to make sure that these scarce tax payer funds are dedicated to the parts of the country that are on the wrong side of the digital divide." said Pai. "We want to make sure that these companies have a strong incentive to upgrade to fiber. Especially in these rural communities that need that high capacity internet access."
Pai affirmed the minimum speed for internet to be considered broadband to be 25 mbps, versus 10 mbps that had been discussed.
Davidson says, remote healthcare is the future because, the price of a virtual visit is less than building the infrastructure needed for an in-person appointment.
"But, if the technology isn't there, were back to having people drive to and from facilities."