You’ve probably heard about how the end of net neutrality will harm small businesses and startups (with internet providers pricing them out of “fast lanes”). Maybe you’ve even heaerd about how your favorite streaming service could be affected if, say, AT&T, which owns Hulu, intentionally slows down its competitor Netflix.
But as much as we hate the idea of some broadband company intruding on our Netflix binge, there’s far more at stake. The end of net neutrality means it may no longer be as easy to use the internet to search for health information, schedule doctors’ appointments or video chat with your physician.
It also could interfere with with anyone who relies on a remote patient monitoring apps or wearable medical devices to track and transmit information like glucose levels, blood pressure and more to health care providers. Experts predict that the number of patients using these tools will reach 7 million in 2018.
Of course, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) argues that the ban on net neutrality will actually benefit these patients. FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly has also said, “I for one see great value in the prioritization of telemedicine and autonomous car technology over cat videos.” And Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC, has argued that “restoring internet freedom” and so-called fast lanes will actually improve patients’ access to telehealth services (like monitoring apps and Michael O’Rielly’s virtual doctor visits).
The problem with this claim? “Only bigger, more lucrative medical companies would be able to afford taking advantage of those fast lanes,” writes Fortune reporter Sy Mukherjee. “And low-income Americans suffering from chronic diseases like diabetes may actually wind up having fewer options for health care services or be forced to rely on more expensive companies that conduct remote health monitoring and online doctor visits.”
Doctors also rely on the internet to communicate with one another, to search for critical information, access patients’ records, share information and connect with specialists. In emergency situations, in which time is of the essence, a slowed-down connection could have dire consequences, according to the Center for Connected Health Policy (CCHP), a public interest group focused on telehealth.
To illustrate the point, CCHP offers an example of a stroke patient who arrives at a rural hospital with no neurologist. If the hospital can connect to a neurologist remotely, the neurologist can review the case and determine whether a particular clot-dissolving agent can be used. (The drug comes with serious risks, and only a neurologist can make the call about administering it.)
“If a connection is slow or is unable to be made because of a heavy traffic day, the tight window for administering the drug will be closed,” notes CCHP. “It could mean the difference between lifelong disability and complete recovery for patients.”
As scary as this all sounds, we still don’t know how the repeal of net neutrality is really going to play out or whether it will even go through at all. Advocacy groups and state attorneys general plan to sue the FCC, and Congress still has the power to reverse the ruling over the next 60 days. For now, we’ll have to take a wait-and-see approach — and watch a whole lot of Netflix while we still can.
What Do YOU Think?
Are you worried about the repeal of net neutrality? How do you think it will affect you? Let us know in the comments!
Shannan Rouss is a writer and editor living in Los Angeles. She has written for magazines including Self, Prevention, Glamour and Cosmopolitan, and her work has appeared online at MSN.com, mom.me and elsewhere.