Federal Grant Establishes Three-State Partnership to Deliver Care Via Telehealth
Patients in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma will benefit from increased health care access
Already pioneers in the field of telemedicine, experts at the University of Missouri School of Medicine will now be teaching more doctors, nurses and other health professionals how to use remote technology to care for rural patients.
With federal funding recently awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS), the University of Missouri is partnering with the University of Kansas Medical Center and the University of Oklahoma in the creation of the Heartland Telehealth Resource Center (HTRC). The new HTRC will help health providers throughout the region better understand what the Missouri Telehealth Network has been demonstrating for more than 15 years: Patients in hard-to-reach, rural areas receive high-quality care using videoconference technologies to "visit" faraway doctors.
"As a partner in the Heartland Telehealth Resource Center, we hope to increase awareness of how telehealth increases access to health care and offer technical, clinical, legal, and regulatory information to health organizations looking to start their own telehealth program," said Rachel Mutrux, director of the Missouri Telehealth Network.
The Missouri Telehealth Network will receive more than $60,000 for its partnership in the project. The network was established in 1994 to provide underserved and rural communities access to health care specialists. Today, it has more than 200 sites in 58 Missouri counties and has provided the resources for more than 26,000 interactive encounters and 105,000 radiology exams.
The Heartland Telehealth Resource Center will combine expertise from the Missouri Telehealth Network at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, KUMC's Center for Telemedicine and Telehealth, and the Oklahoma Center for Telemedicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
Each of the three institutions has unique strengths in telemedicine. In addition to being one of the nation's earliest programs, the University of Kansas Center for Telemedicine and Telehealth has particular expertise in telehealth research, especially cost-benefit analysis. The Missouri program has a strong track record in adult clinical care, distance education and telehealth policy involvement. The Oklahoma Center for Telemedicine has an extensive background with store-and-forward telemedicine and interactive consultation, particularly for Native American and pediatric populations. Overall, these institutions offer telehealth expertise that few regions can match.
"Last year our network provided interactive videoconferencing services for 31 different specialties, so we have a wide range of experience within our partnership network" Mutrux said. "Another unique aspect that we bring to the resource center is our health journalism expertise at MU, which will reach out to patients using social media such as Facebook."
Together, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma are on an urgent mission to provide greater telehealth resources for one simple reason: nearly 90 percent of all counties in the three states are rural. As a result, consumers have limited access to services, there's a shortage of physicians, health care organizations face financial constraints and, because of limited health education, poor lifestyle choices create greater health-care needs. Telehealth can help solve these problems.
"We think that one of the gaps that still exists is consumer awareness of telehealth services," Mutrux said. "We're hoping that increased consumer awareness will drive demand and increase utilization."
For more information, see http://telehealth.missouri.edu or call toll-free (1-877-882-9933).
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Laura Gerding, APR