This is a guest post from Neal Neuberger, President of Health Tech Strategies, LLC, a Virginia-based consulting firm focused on the public and private sector policy environment with regard to research, development and implementation of emerging health care technologies. — IIA

Health care has been in the news a lot lately and rightly so. We are in the midst of a health care revolution, and actions taken during this period of transformation will have tremendous impact in the years and decades to come.

Three years ago in March, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law. This revolutionary legislation overhauled the U.S. health care system and has already had far-reaching effects. However, the ACA is only one part of the transformation of health care in our country. In recent years, the intersection of health care and technology, particularly mobile technologies, has resulted in myriad new health care tools, which are already making a difference in how quality health care is accessed and delivered. Now, rural residents can receive a remote consultation from a specialist located across the country; patients with chronic conditions can receive care at home or while on the go with a wireless device; and people at any level of health can use mobile apps to monitor nutrition, wellness, or fitness. 

Advancements in mHealth and telemedicine have transformed health care into a more accessible, patient-centered, convenient model that benefits individuals and families. And these advancements have also affected the entire health care community.  Medical personnel—including doctors, nurses, and first responders—increasingly use these innovations to access and transmit health records, images, and information at incredible speeds, resulting in quicker diagnoses, effective and new treatments, and better outcomes.  More and more, hospitals and clinics are turning to innovative technologies and methods to expand access to care and to deliver that care in convenient, cost-effective ways.  These innovations are already saving lives and improving health care, and tomorrow’s technologies will no doubt build on this progress. 

Or maybe not.  Just a few weeks ago, members of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology discussed a growing segment of the mobile technology market—mobile health care apps—and the possibility of taxing these apps and devices. Doing so could slow or stymie the incredible growth of this mobile health care technology (5% of smartphone users downloading an app to track or manage their health, according to a September 2012 Pew study). Don’t get me wrong: Government action is indeed needed to extend the progress that has been made in mobile health technologies; however, modern technologies require modern regulations that encourage both private sector investment and continued innovations. 

Modern regulations are necessary for all modern technologies, not just health care-related apps and devices. That’s because it isn’t just wireless technology tools that are evolving: Americans are increasingly adopting wireline IP-enabled services, which deliver faster speeds and allow seamless communication between a variety of wireless and wired devices and platforms. And the infrastructure to support this array of wired and wireline services is transforming too. Old copper networks are being replaced by high-speed Internet Protocol (IP) networks that support a wider array of devices and data, with virtually limitless applications for improving our lives. These networks, combined with wireline and wireless IP-enabled services, offer greater capabilities and can also spur high-tech developments.  This modern, robust infrastructure will enable continued advancements in health care technology, in addition to more possibilities and opportunities for every aspect of modern life. 

However, like innovative health care technologies, the changeover to all IP networks is, to a certain extent, at the mercy of regulators. Smart, light-touch regulation will hasten this needed transition, but the application of outdated regulations designed for 20th century telephonic technologies could stall progress. This transition has the potential to improve and enrich our lives and our communities. It can expand and enhance the resources available to people, from education and health care resources to social and professional opportunities. I, for one, hope the government is smart about it. Smart action will help us and our communications networks to stay hale and healthy.