What Does the FCC's Net Neutrality Decision Mean for Your Hospital?
Net neutrality — it’s been a hot button issue for years, pitting powerful Internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast and Verizon against advocates of unfettered Internet access. Often oversimplified as an issue about consumers’ rights to stream Netflix, net neutrality has much more far-reaching implications across many industries that rely on the Internet. In light of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) recent decision to increase oversight of both mobile and fixed broadband ISPs, let’s explore the impact new rules may impact hospitals that utilize online or digital patient engagement strategies.
Game-Changing Decision by FCC
In a statement made in February, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said, “The Internet is the most powerful and pervasive platform on the planet. It’s simply too important to be left without rules and without a referee on the field.” Weeks later, the FCC voted 3 to 2 to set guidelines to protect net neutrality. What do the new rules do? A recent briefing from The Advisory Board Company identifies key regulations which:
- Prohibit ISPs from blocking or slowing access to legal content, applications and service or creating premium paid services for prioritized access, also known as Internet ‘fast lanes’
- Require full disclosure of fees, special rates, surcharges, data limits and network management
The briefing also cites mixed reviews among healthcare-related organizations. While some worry that the increasing number of health IT solutions that rely on high-speed Internet may suffer without dedicated ‘fast lanes,’ others applaud the ruling. Matthew Douglass, vice president of Practice Fusion, told Advisory Board that, “reclassification of [Internet service providers] under Title II ensures that product features, pricing, and functionality are the drivers of innovation and choice in our health care technology market, unimpeded by whether a new company can simply afford to reach their customers.”
Why Does Net Neutrality Matter to the Healthcare Industry?
It’s clear that the new rules will have an impact on the healthcare industry. Becker’s Hospital Review offered several considerations for hospitals and other healthcare providers when it comes to the potential benefits of net neutrality:
- The growing popularity of mHealth solutions such as telehealth, mobile apps, wearable technology and patient portals.
- On-going interoperability goals for health information exchanges.
- The processing power demands of medical software.
All of the above reasons require more Internet bandwidth; if left unchecked, ISPs could, according to the FCC, “… stratify Internet speed to those who can pay for it.” Net neutrality theoretically ensures that all healthcare providers — large and small — are on the same footing when it comes to broadband access rather than a system that favors organizations with the deepest pockets. It could also be crucial in ensuring that patients, such as those who are good candidates for remote monitoring, are not at the mercy of an ISP that prioritizes bandwidth to a customer that pays a premium to be able to stream movies.
To be fair, these are a lot of “maybes” when such fears have not materialized before the FCC decision. The last time the government got involved with the internet and healthcare we got healthcare.gov… but that’s another story.
Patient Engagement Beyond the ‘Net
Of course, the net neutrality debate is likely to continue pending more clarification, but hospitals have something else to consider: how do you identify which patients are most likely to be influenced by online or digital patient engagement strategies and how do you effectively communicate with them?
As we mentioned in our blog about Millennials, though Millennials are more likely to connect with healthcare providers via digital channels. Additionally, certain psychographic segments — regardless of generation — are more likely to use digital channels to support healthy behaviors. Because different consumer types are motivated by different things and prefer varied communication channels, a one-size-fits-all message will not drive engagement. Like any broad consumer group — whether based on demographics, psychographics or a common health condition — individuals have distinct personal motivations, beliefs and attitudes towards healthcare that will determine whether your message connects or misses the mark.
By using consumer insights and psychographic segmentation, hospitals can identify and target consumer segments with greater success — whether using on- or off-line patient engagement strategies. Ultimately, that’s the winning play for any healthcare provider.