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By Gerardo R. Partido

HAGATNA, Guam (Marianas Variety, Nov. 27) – Guam is included in an initiative launched by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to increase access to health care through broadband "telemedicine" services.

The Federal Communications Commission, on Nov. 19, dedicated over US$417 million for the construction of 69 statewide or regional broadband telemedicine networks in 42 states and U.S. territories including Guam.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, broadband deployment is one of its top priorities and nowhere is the need for broadband greater than in healthcare, where isolated areas like Guam can save lives by using advanced communications technology to tap the expertise of modern urban medical centers in the mainland.

The Federal Communications Commission initiative will support the connection of more than 6,000 public and non-profit health care providers nationwide to broadband "telehealth" networks.

Health care facilities eligible to participate in the pilot program will include hospitals, clinics, universities and research centers, behavioral health sites, correctional facility clinics, and community health centers.

Telehealth and telemedicine services provide patients in isolated areas with access to critically needed medical specialists in a variety of practices, including cardiology, pediatrics, and radiology, in some instances without leaving their homes or communities.

Under these services, intensive care doctors and nurses can monitor critically-ill patients around the clock and video conferencing allows specialists and mental health professionals to care for patients in different isolated locations, often hundreds of miles away.

Guam health centers, for instance, will be able to access specialists from the mainland for important consultations through teleconferencing. The Federal Communications Commission initiative is important to Guam because it is thousands of miles away from the leading health centers in the states, which have the most updated information and technology on various diseases.

With its broadband initiative, the Federal Communications Commission said carrier networks will be able to deliver services more efficiently, reduce costs and travel time for consumers, decrease medical errors, and enable health care providers to share critical information.

In addition, rapid and coordinated responses to public health emergencies, such as bio-terrorism attacks, pandemics or disease-related outbreaks, will be expedited through coordination with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other public health officials during public health emergencies.

This is again of vital importance to Guam because the island is isolated from the mainland U.S. and would depend a lot on communication with federal agencies in the event of bio-terrorism attacks, pandemics or other disease-related outbreaks.

Under the Federal Communications Commission initiative, participants would be eligible for universal service funding to support up to 85 percent of the costs associated with the design, engineering and construction of their broadband health care networks.

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