Telehealth for Rural Communities

The FCC’s https://www.fcc.gov Report “Promoting Telehealth in Rural America”, discusses how the FCC’s Rural Health Care (RHC) https://www.fcc.gov/general/rural-health-care-program program is helping rural healthcare providers obtain broadband and other services involving communications at discounted rates.

According to the American Hospital Association’s https://aha.org Fact Sheet on Telehealth, 65% of U.S. hospitals are now connecting patients and consulting practitioners at a distance through the use of video and other technology.

The report points out specific successful uses for telehealth technologies in rural communities. For example, the University of Virginia Health System https://uvahealth.com connects 152 sites across the state using high definition video teleconferencing, store-and-forward technologies, remote patient monitoring, and mobile health tools. The network allows for 60 different clinical subspecialties in rural areas, to facilitate more than 65,000 live interactive patient consultations and follow-up visits with high definition video.

The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) https://web.musc.edu, part of the Palmetto State Providers Network, provides 77 unique telehealth services to more than 200 sites in 27 South Carolina counties and achieved a dramatic growth in annual telehealth interactions from 1,078 in 2013 to more than 235,000 in 2017.

Telehealth is offered more and more at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) https://www.umc.edu and is used in more than 35 specialties and provides tele-emergency care in emergency departments in 17 rural hospitals. The UMMC health system connects more than 200 healthcare locations in the state which accounts for about 500,000 patient visits in 69 of the state’s 82 counties.

As for use in networks, the Oregon Community Health Information Network https://ochin.org   and the California Telehealth Network https://www.caltelehealth.org are collaborating and have used the RHC program funding to connect over 800 healthcare providers over the last seven years.

The New England Telehealth Consortium https://www.netelc.org encompasses 890 sites across six northeastern states to provide tele-psychiatry to rural patients and now provides digital transition to cloud-based applications to include EHRs.

In Skagway, Alaska with a population of less than one thousand, the Dahl Memorial Clinic https://www.dahlclinic.org uses broadband telehealth services to send x-rays and ultrasound images to radiologists over a hundred miles away in Juneau for reading and interpretation.

In addition, the number of telemedicine visits among rural Medicare beneficiaries has grown rapidly in recent years.

Goals for the FCC are to:

  • Reform the distribution of RHC Program funding to promote efficiency and reduce incentives that encourage waste, fraud, and abuse
  • Direct the Program Administrator to create a database of rates that healthcare providers could use to quickly and easily determine the amount of support they can receive from the program.
  • Target funding to rural areas especially those communities facing shortages of healthcare providers to ensure that eligible rural healthcare providers can continue to benefit from program funding
  • Simplify the application process for program participants and provide more clarity regarding program procedures
  • Direct the Program Administrator to take a variety of actions to increase transparency in the program and ensure that all applicants receive complete and timely information to help inform decisions regarding eligible services and purchases

 

Go to https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/DOC-358434A1.pdf for more information and a copy of the report.

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