The recent ruling by the FCC to repeal net neutrality is by far one of their most significant and controversial actions to date. Mr. Ajit Pai – the current chairman of the FCC — claims that this will eventually help consumers and promote competition by giving broadband providers more incentive to invest in infrastructure to expand their services especially to underserved areas. With the recent ruling on net neutrality, many concerns have been raised regarding how it is going to affect the way Americans will experience the internet. The major concern is the possible introduction of tiers of services which will enable or restrict access to specific sites and data and also push up costs for services in demand, enforcing tie-ups with network service providers to continue their services. This ruling on net neutrality is bound to affect all areas of business that are a part of the digital revolution – including healthcare, which has been taking several digital initiatives.
With the recent changes in the healthcare space, digital adoption has been on full swing by payers and providers alike over the last couple of years. EHR adoption, meaningful use, and MACRA are providing healthcare organizations the incentive to invest in digital and analytics services in order to meet their immediate goal of adopting the value-based paradigm and also enable them to cut costs in the long run. The transition to this new paradigm will bring its own set of problems from an infrastructure and setup perspective. But would the recent ruling on net neutrality by the FCC affect this trend?
There are three possible scenarios. In each of these scenarios, there are different implications:
No control on healthcare data and free flow is allowed – This is because the amount of data traffic and demand in the front end of the healthcare space is far lower than content-heavy services and most of the data is shared among the stakeholders using private networks for their operations. This is possibly the initial scenario and likely to change in the long run.
With no restriction as it is now, there will be no effect on the healthcare digital ecosystem and the operation of healthcare services online will continue to be the same as it was earlier. No changes will be necessary and the landscape will be largely unaffected if this data is not targeted.
Throttled data flow – Healthcare lobbyists will try to make sure that all healthcare data is allowed as in an open internet and not blocked by any individual provider, and the most they can do is make sure a minimum bandwidth is allocated for healthcare services alone to make sure the service is not affected much. This is the most likely scenario in the long run, assuming the repealing of net neutrality will stay in effect.
With throttled data flow, services which rely heavily on continuous consistent network usage to operate, especially cloud based services like telehealth and remote monitoring, will take a big hit as they will be forced to either enter into tie-ups with network providers to sustain their services or reduce the amount of data that is used by their services so that the lower speed doesn’t affect them. Each tie-up will come with its own cost. Since most of the larger payers and providers operate on private networks, the cost structure will not change as much as for smaller and newer ones relying heavily on low-cost digital infrastructure.
Restricted data flow – Complete control over how data flows based on which gateway the data is coming from and whether or not they want to allow or block data is based on the discretion of the broadband or service provider. This is the least likely, but also the most detrimental scenario as it will impact any form of digital initiative on an organizational scale.
Tie-ups will become essential, and payers and providers will face a huge problem trying to operate within their service providers and won’t be able to reach their consumers without extending their partner network to their customers at their own cost. It will inevitably push up the cost of healthcare digital initiatives.