FCC creates mHealth task force

“The Commission’s top priority must be to make networks work for everyone."

The Federal Communications Commission is stepping into the mHealth regulation arena with its own task force.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has announced the creation of CONNECT2HEALTHFCC, which "will bring together the expertise of the FCC on the critical intersection of broadband, advanced technology and health." He named Michele Ellison, chief of the FCC's enforcement bureau since 2009, as the task force's chairman, and said he intends to also name her deputy general counsel.

“The Commission’s top priority must be to make networks work for everyone," Wheeler said in a statement. "Broadband itself is not the goal -- it’s what broadband enables. We must leverage all available technologies to ensure that advanced healthcare solutions are readily accessible to all Americans, from rural and remote areas to underserved inner cities. By identifying regulatory barriers and incentives and building stronger partnerships with stakeholders in the areas of telehealth, mobile applications, and telemedicine, we can expedite this vital shift.”

[See also: House explores FDA's mobile health role.]

Wheeler said Ellison, in chairing the new task force, will work with the FCC's director of health care initiatives, chiefs of the wireline and wireless bureaus and the Office of Engineering and Technology, FCC leadership and public and private stakeholders in the technology and healthcare industries.

Ellison "brings a wealth of experience to the effort," he said. "She is a gifted lawyer and dedicated public servant who has brought her keen leadership skills to bear as a forceful and effective chief of the enforcement bureau. I am pleased that she now will use her formidable talents to address this critical challenge.”

The FCC is part of an intriguing alphabet soup of federal agencies looking to gain control over the developing mHealth/telehealth space. In 2012 the agency was tasked to join with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to craft "an appropriate, risk-based regulatory framework" for the nation's health IT infrastructure in general and mobile health in particular, as part of the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act of 2012.

[See also: Wireless health market poised for growth.]

While the FDA has been targeting regulations for mobile medical apps – and facing a storm of criticism in its efforts – the FCC has focused on designating broadband spectrum for wireless medical devices and making sure rural networks get the capacity they need to promote mHealth.