Panic has set in after the Federal Communications Commission passed Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to scrap net neutrality rules. Net neutrality rules are the Obama-era regulations that prohibit broadband companies from prioritizing or blocking some content over others and prevent Internet service providers from charging additional fees for select services, such as high-quality streaming. This will affect millions of Internet users as providers begin to change their services. There’s quite a bit of uncertainty surrounding just how wide of an effect net neutrality repeal would have on consumers. However, many fail to realize that net neutrality and healthcare also share a relationship that could change in the near future. Some say the new proposal will help the healthcare industry, while others fear it could hurt it.
Net Neutrality and Healthcare
Electronic Health Records
EHRs are one aspect that net neutrality and healthcare go hand in hand. With an increasing reliance on cloud storage, many fear that these regulations could put a stranglehold on the amount of info that can be stored and shared. Lack of information exchange could seriously put lives in jeopardy. If healthcare providers can no longer share all of the information, it could leave many patients in the dark. EHRs could become too expensive to operate in small practices.
One of the biggest proponents of this passed proposal is the telehealth companies. A repeal of these regulations might actually help an industry reliant upon technological innovations and services to provide telehealth to rural and outlier populations. However, current policies allow providers to create telemedicine fast lanes. Further, the current 400-page document states telemedicine services could be structured in a way that it could fall out of the open Internet rules. This means that we could expect faster Internet lanes for hospitals. But critics point out that only bigger, more lucrative medical companies would be able to afford taking advantage of those fast lanes. And low-income Americans suffering from chronic diseases like diabetes may actually wind up having fewer options for health care services. They will also be forced to rely on more expensive companies that conduct remote health monitoring and online doctor visits.
Objectors of net neutrality and healthcare argue that these fast lanes would allow healthcare providers to raise prices to offset the cost of the new net neutrality restrictions. At the end of the day, it will either stimulate the telemedicine industry by creating healthier competition, or it will slow down the access of information. This will greatly hinder the ability to access information.
Internet Devices and Monitors
Another argument in favor of the net neutrality and healthcare relationship is the use of Internet devices and monitors. A number of medical devices are connected to the internet. As healthcare moves toward integrating personal fitness trackers, mobile health apps or other devices that enable patients to “bring your own data” to appointments. An Internet environment that encourages the equal, free-flow of information may be helpful in this instance. It could, however, affect users who use monitoring devices like fit bits and other wearables that track health statistics. A slower Internet could mean difficulty navigating this technology.
At the end of the day, it will take time to know whether or not net neutrality and healthcare will be able to coexist. Some believe that this will open up pathways for rural areas and grow the telemedicine industry. Others fear that this could leave only a few major healthcare companies standing. This will lead to very little competition. Companies will be able to set price points as high as they want. Stay tuned for updates as the new net neutrality landscape continues to develop.
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