Last week, headlines flashed across the news and Twitter feeds proclaiming an "historic" vote by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in favor of reclassifying broadband and mobile Internet access as a Title II service, paving the way for stronger net neutrality regulations. This latest action may have implications for healthcare, but the needs of the healthcare system go far beyond simple net neutrality.
Assuming the FCC's new rules survive court challenges, we think the outcome will be beneficial to healthcare – especially to remote patient monitoring. Gone will be the worry that individuals relying on home monitoring will have their data bumped out of the way by neighbors paying for premium movie streaming. But there is still something missing beyond simple equal access enshrined in the net neutrality rules. In healthcare, we are still fighting a "data neutrality" battle, and there remains much work to be done on this front.
By this I mean that even if your healthcare data is given equal access to the Internet and transmitted the same way as everything else, there are no guarantees that it will be useful when it reaches its destination. Only when we have guarantees that data will be collected and transmitted in a standards-based way will we have the data neutrality that healthcare sorely needs and that patients will surely demand. Most people favor net neutrality because the data with which they are familiar has a high degree of interoperability already. Email works across platforms and across clients. Movies stream on many different operating systems. The World Wide Web operates in a variety of browsers across a variety of platforms. But healthcare data -- not so much.
Today, whether or not data from your blood pressure monitor reaches your doctor may depend on what licensing agreements your doctor signed, or what EHR system they bought, or what phone you bought and which carrier's network it runs on. How valuable would net neutrality be to you if Netflix only worked on Comcast cable, and you owned a MacBook, while people on Time Warner needed to buy a Windows machine, and could only watch Hulu? All the equal speed traffic in the world wouldn't help consumers achieve the benefits of a competitive marketplace in this scenario. So why should we tolerate this in healthcare?
We hope that those of you who engaged in the battle for net neutrality continue the fight for healthcare data neutrality too. By demanding that device makers and hospitals and other players in healthcare embrace open standards at each step of the data collection and transmission chain, we can achieve the true benefits of connected health.
How can you help? There are many ways: Write your Congressional representatives and senators and urge them to support initiatives to de-certify EHR systems that don't share data with health information exchanges. Buy devices that bear the Continua logo and let manufacturers know you value the interoperability that our logo stands for. If you can't find a device with our logo, write to the manufacturer and ask why. If you are a hospital procuring connected health tools, demand that they be certified for interoperability and ask whether their data output follows recognized and open standards.
But above all, we should not accept proprietary and siloed data in any form when it comes to healthcare. Your health is too important. It's time to set our data free and demand healthcare data neutrality too.