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How Can the Internet of Things Integrate With Telehealth, Remote Patient Monitoring?

October 04, 2021 - The federal government is seeking comments on issues related to spectrum for the Internet of Things, including broadband connectivity needed for remote patient monitoring and telehealth programs and mHealth wearables.

The Federal Communications Commission has issued a Notice of Inquiry, as directed by the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2021, seeking advice on how to allocate and govern spectrum needs now and into the future. This gives healthcare organizations and other stakeholders the opportunity to advance the conversation on the value of reliable connectivity for devices and platforms included in healthcare services delivered outside the hospital, office or clinic.

“As 5G wireless systems and low Earth orbiting satellites expand the availability of high-speed and high-capacity networks, we can expect the pace of innovation to increase,” Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in comments accompanying the notice. “Of course, for this to happen we need to make sure that adequate spectrum is available for all of this activity. That is because most IoT devices connect wirelessly, whether over licensed or unlicensed airwaves or terrestrial or space-based systems.”

“Congress saw this very clearly and in the National Defense Authorization Act directed us to open an inquiry into the spectrum required to support the growth of IoT technologies,” she added. “This is what we do here today. We ask how we can ensure spectrum availability keeps pace with demand. We seek comment on addressing regulatory barriers that may inadvertently impede access to spectrum for IoT deployments. We also ask about the role licensed and unlicensed operations play in the growth and development of IoT. These are important questions and I hope and expect the record will produce thoughtful answers.”

With more healthcare services being pushed out of the healthcare setting and into remote locations like the home, connectivity becomes a bigger issue – particularly as other, non-clinical platforms and devices seek access to the grid. RPM and telehealth programs won’t be sustainable if they have to compete with other services for connectivity, or if that connectivity is in any way compromised.

Because many of these programs are new, and because the IoT is still a developing concept, the timing is right for a conversation on how connectivity should be regulated for healthcare uses.

The FCC notice also wants to talk about digital equity and inclusion – a crucial part of a healthcare ecosystem that is just now turning its attention to the social determinants of health. Spurred on in part by the rapid adoption of telehealth during the pandemic, healthcare providers and others are looking at how telehealth can help underserved populations access care, as well as how telehealth may be causing some of these access issues due to a lack of connectivity.

“The Commission, as part of its continuing effort to advance digital equity for all, including people of color, persons with disabilities, persons who live in rural or Tribal areas, and others who are or have been historically underserved, marginalized, or adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality, invites comment on any equity-related considerations and benefits (if any) that may be associated with the issues discussed herein,” the notice states. “Specifically, we seek comment on how topics discussed herein may promote or inhibit advances in diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, as well the scope of the Commission’s relevant legal authority.”

“We must acknowledge that many Americans will not realize the benefits of IoT; until broadband service is available and affordable to everyone, those without broadband will be left behind during the IoT revolution,” FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said in comments accompanying the notice. “That’s why my number one priority at the Commission remains addressing the problem of internet inequality and the digital divide. The growing importance of the Internet of Things is one more example of why the Commission must continue to focus on connecting all Americans.”

So as telehealth and RPM programs show success and look to scale upwards, providers need to know whether those connected devices and platforms will have a clear and reliable path between the home and the hospital or doctor’s office, and that they won’t conflict with smart doorbells, refrigerators and televisions. And clinics and health centers in remote locations will need to know that their programs don’t clash with the connectivity needs of the library, town hall or school.

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