OVERNIGHT TECH: House panel to hear benefits of e-health

THE LEDE: Technology can be instrumental in helping doctors take better care of sick people, lawmakers will hear on Thursday, but regulators need to mindful of the perils involved as well.

The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health will hold a hearing with a handful of medical experts and telehealth experts to “begin a discussion on the types of technologies that hold promise for the future of our healthcare system,” the panel said in a background memo.

“Advances in technology present tremendous opportunities to improve the access to and quality of health care in areas all across the country,” subcommittee Chairman Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) said in a statement. “How can technology help patients, particularly in rural communities, gain access to doctors or specialists? We look forward to examining how new technologies and advances in telemedicine can advance efficiency, quality, and access to health care.” 

Telemedicine can make healthcare less expensive, help the chronically ill and lead to better decision-making, according to Rashid Bashshur, director of telemedicine at the University of Michigan Health System.

“It would enable patients receive the care they need by the appropriate provider, at the appropriate setting, and closest to where they work and live as indicated by their need,” he said in his prepared testimony. 

One problem, however, is the wide range of technologies that qualify as “telemedicine,” which can be troubling for regulatory oversight. 

“The great diversity of telehealth makes Congress’ job difficult as it is hard to simply define telehealth,” according to Ateev Mehrotra, a policy analyst at the Rand Corporation, professor at Harvard Medical School and physician. “While it might be tempting to begin to define, regulate, or pay for telehealth by technology, technology changes rapidly and any definition that specifies the type of technology runs the risk of being outdated very quickly.”

He will advocate for lawmakers to work with broad definitions, but will also warn that technology doesn't always lead to better care.

“Sometimes telehealth may even lead to harm,” Mehrotra warned in his prepared testimony, noting a study that showed that physicians may be more willing to prescribe drugs during a remote visit than if they were face-to-face with a patient.

The panel will also hear from Gary Chard, the Delaware state director of the Parkinson’s Action Network, for whom technology has been an “invaluable experience” that allows him to consult with doctors without having to leave the house.

The CEO of a regional health system and a top telemedicine technology executive will also testify.

Patent markup officially delayed: The Senate Judiciary Committee’s plans to consider a patent reform bill from Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Thursday have officially been pushed back, according to a committee aide. As Leahy works to find a compromise over the more contentious patent reform measures — such as fee-shifting, which would require the loser of an unreasonable patent infringement lawsuit to pay the winner’s fees — he has again delayed committee consideration of the bill. 

In a statement, Leahy said committee members are "working towards agreement” on the bill. “Just as I did with consideration of comprehensive immigration reform last year, I want everyone to have enough time to read the legislation and any amendments that will be filed... We will not take up my patent bill tomorrow but will continue our work in the Committee this week,” he said.

Warren calls FCC’s net neutrality plans ‘disturbing’: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) came out against Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler’s plans to allow Internet “fast lanes” in his rewrite of the net neutrality rules. The original rules — which were struck down by a federal court earlier this year — kept Internet providers from blocking or slowing access to certain websites, and Wheeler has proposed new rules that would keep Internet providers from deliberately slowing traffic but would allow them to boost traffic for websites and services that pay more.

“Reports that the FCC may gut net neutrality are disturbing, and would be just one more way the playing field is tilted for the rich and powerful who have already made it,” Warren said in a Facebook post. “Our regulators already have all the tools they need to protect a free and open Internet - where a handful of companies cannot block or filter or charge access fees for what we do online. They should stand up and use them.”

Franken asks tech giants to weigh in on Comcast merger: Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) — a vocal critic of the proposed deal to combine cable giants Comcast and Time Warner Cable — wants to hear from the tech industry. In a letter on Wednesday, Franken asked the Computer and Communications Industry Association to weigh in on how the proposed merger would affect the public interest if approved by the Department of Justice and the FCC, following up on a similar request he made of Netflix earlier this month. The trade group includes Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo.

Facebook offers more control over app sharing: Facebook unveiled new privacy controls that will let users access apps using their Facebook login without handing over all of their information to those apps. At its f8 event on Wednesday, Facebook introduced “Anonymous Login,” which lets users provide their Facebook login to access apps without providing any of their information on Facebook, and a new version of “Facebook Login,” which lets users specify what Facebook information the apps can access. The company also redesigned the “App Control Panel,” which lets users see which apps can access what information. According to Facebook, the new and redesigned privacy tools will be rolling out in the near future.

Silicon Valley primary challenger unveils Web bill of rights: Democrat Ro Khanna, who is challenging Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) to represent the heart of Silicon Valley in Congress, released six principles for an “Internet Bill of Rights” on Wednesday. The effort, he said, is meant to protect people’s civil rights and help consumers get more control of their data online.

Among the six principles are the right to universal Internet access, net neutrality, freedom from government surveillance and Web users’ ability to be informed about how their data is used. 

Google continues to push for Wi-Fi airwaves: Google is continuing to ask the FCC to make more low-frequency airwaves available for Wi-Fi as it prepares for its highly anticipated incentive spectrum auction next year, according to filings at the agency. That auction will involve the FCC buying airwaves back from television broadcasters and reselling them to wireless companies looking to boost their cellphone networks. As wireless companies fight over who should be allowed to buy what, the tech industry is asking the agency to set aside some “unlicensed” airwaves, which are used by consumer electronic devices such as garage door openers and Wi-Fi routers.

According to a filing at the FCC, Google met with Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel’s office last week, asking that the agency set more airwaves for unlicensed use in the auction and limit the number of restrictions it places on the use of those airwaves.

 

ON TAP

The Hudson Institute will hold an event at noon on the Internet and intellectual property.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold an event at 4 p.m. on the future of Internet governance and the global players that will shape it.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Wednesday vowed that his agency will not allow Internet providers to slow traffic under his new net neutrality proposal.

About 36 percent of Internet users have changed their online passwords or canceled some of their Web accounts out of fear of the online “Heartbleed” bug, according to a new poll.

Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee have reached a compromise on legislation to help protect the country’s cyber networks and will formally introduce the bill shortly, they said Wednesday.

For the first time, the federal court overseeing the country’s surveillance programs heard a formal argument this month that the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of people’s phone records is illegal.

 

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