Until a year or so ago, very few people cared about “net neutrality,” and even fewer knew what it is. Now, it’s a hot topic on the minds of many people for multiple reasons.
For some, it’s been a sensitive socio-political subject.
For others, it’s been a source of satire—such as Burger King’s satirical TV spot.1
For us, it’s about how net neutrality might affect healthcare IT. We are only interested in understanding net neutrality’s possible effects on healthcare IT—for better or worse. The following is a digest of what some healthcare industry journalists and thought-leaders have said.
What is Net Neutrality?
In case you aren’t quite sure what net neutrality is or why it’s been such a buzzword, Save the Internet’s explanation is spot-on:
“Net neutrality is the basic principle that prohibits Internet service providers [ISPs] like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from speeding up, slowing down or blocking any content, applications or Websites you want to use. Net Neutrality is the way that the Internet has always worked.” 2
Or at least the way the Internet used to work.
With the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) December 2017 repeal of net neutrality rules, ISPs can now block, throttle or provide preferred “fast lane” service to whomever they choose (although most ISPs have said they won’t).
Patient Engagement and Electronic Health Records (EHR)
Most of what is said about net neutrality and healthcare IT tends not be favorable—with EHRs and patient engagement being two topics that may see negative impacts.
For instance, Becker’s Health IT and CIO Review said EHRs are at risk because “these systems are increasingly moving toward cloud storage, and fast and reliable access to the data stored there is imperative for patient care.”3
For similar reasons, Healthcare IT speculated about potential harm to patient engagement:
“The general public, including parents and caregivers of children, use web-based platforms to access children’s medical records, make appointments and find health information. Having slower access to these tools could potentially result in delays in care and seeking information, and place an undue burden on ready access to quality healthcare and health information.” 4
As with EHRs and patient engagement, there’s no debate about how telemedicine relies upon the Internet to connect people—especially those in underserved populations. But what is highly contested is whether net neutrality is a boon or bane for telemedicine.
For instance, Fortune shared a perspective about the potential advantages:
“Net neutrality repeal proponents retort that allowing faster Internet lanes for certain organizations—for instance, hospitals—would actually benefit consumers.” 5
…while Modern Healthcare presented another that highlighted a possible pitfall:
“Though the FCC could make exceptions for healthcare so it’s not subject to the same rules…that might still leave patients to fend for themselves.” 6
The uncertainty about the pros or cons of net neutrality also carry over into speculations about impacts on patient costs.
Health Data Management explained how it could increase patient costs:
“However, critics—among them hospital organizations— contend the move will set the stage for cable TV-like tiers of services that would force consumers to pay more for services. This may particularly be true in rural areas, where there is often little or no competition among Internet service providers.” 7
…while Modern Healthcare cited an FCC spokeperson’s rosier outlook:
“…[the] proposals would unleash innovation and investment in networks, providing better connectivity for rural and underserved hospitals and reducing costs everywhere.” 8
Only time will tell what net neutrality’s true impacts on healthcare IT will be. We will certainly keep watching and listening!
As Sequence Health’s Associate Director of Search Engine Marketing, Susan Gullion is one of our most knowledgeable resources for enhancing our healthcare clients’ search engine marketing strategies with SEO, PPC and social media.
Sequence Health is a cloud-based technology and services company that improves profitability and patient outcomes for hospitals and practices through end-to-end patient engagement solutions backed by clinical and non-clinical teams. Its HIPAA-compliant, SaaS platform improves care team workflows, automates patient communication and tracks patient progress to optimize the patient journey. Since 2004, leading healthcare providers have trusted Sequence Health to help acquire, manage and engage patients through complex episodes of care.