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AMIA Stresses Broadband Access is Social Determinant of Health

AMIA emphasizes the dependence underprivileged areas have on adequate broadband access for mHealth to the FCC.

AMIA suggests broadband access is social determinant of health

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- The American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) released a letter urging the FCC to categorize broadband access among the social determinants of health as they continue to develop policies and programs in the future.

AMIA agrees with what the FCC has said in the past, that healthcare is being “transformed by the availability and accessibility of broadband-enabled services and technologies and the development of life-saving wireless medical devices.”

This notion prompts AMIA to believe that access to broadband is, or soon will be recognized as, a social determinant of health.

“FCC has a critical role in ensuring that Americans benefit from the electronic health infrastructure that was initiated with the passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, and supported by the 21st Century Cures Act.”

Social determinants of health are the conditions in which people live, grow, work, and age. They include socioeconomic status, education, employment, physical environment, and social support.

AMIA believes that social determinants include access to health information and care via broadband-enabled technologies.

AMIA informatic professionals outlined several recommendations and observations FCC can follow to ensure the improvement and accessibility of broadband-enabled healthcare solutions for patient care.

The first topic AMIA touches on is the digital divide and its impact on health. mHealth relies on broadband technologies and is significant to rural populations or populations that cannot afford to travel for care.

Inadequate access to broadband technology for mHealth reduces vulnerable groups from participating in mHealth treatments, according to AMIA.

“AMIA supports many of the proposals described in the chairman’s Digital Empowerment Agenda, meant to improve the digital divide’s impact on health, including development of Gigabit Opportunity Zones and his Mobile Broadband for Rural American plan,” AMIA stated.

“We note, however, that should private-sector actors fail to sufficiently address broadband access and digital opportunity for disadvantaged populations, FCC and other federal, state, and local partners must be willing to take a leadership role,” the letter continued. “This role may include direct funding or subsidies for access, and preemption of state and local laws pursuant to section 253 of the Communications Act.”

AMIA suggested that the FCC consider policies that promote accessibility to specific health applications. FCC can use the example of giving disadvantaged populations access to personal health records to participate in population-based research without having to pay for network data charges themselves.

AMIA outlined that patients would not be subject to fees for sending or receiving messages to or from their healthcare provider using regular texts or in-app messaging. Patients should also have free access to broadband when participating in research via mobile apps.

“With evidence suggesting that broadband access is a social determinant of health, government must be willing to provide protections for the public good,” said AMIA.

The FCC has a critical role in ensuring that broadband infrastructure is operational and fully implemented across the country, AMIA explained. Specifically, AMIA recommended the FCC do the following:

  • Partner with federal and state/local agencies to leverage broadband-enabled health solutions and technologies against the opioid epidemic
  • Align programs that can bolster efforts to better target those with chronic conditions, and ensure that these populations have access to affordable broadband and broadband-enabled health technologies
  • Examine other agency sources of administrative data, such as CMS, ONC and CDC, among others, to assess broadband-enabled health solutions capacity and needs
  • Leverage the work done by the National Institutes of Standards & Technology’s National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, also known as NSTIC, to ameliorate privacy and security concerns in accessing health care-related information via public broadband

“We appreciate FCC’s work in this important area,” AMIA concluded. “We are excited about the possibilities this new paradigm will have for bringing new and innovative therapies to American consumers. We look forward to working closely with the FCC, bringing the expertise of health informatics professionals to our national broadband health imperative.”


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