Readily available healthcare has always been more difficult to access in rural areas. A lack of centralized resources means potentially long drives for basic healthcare, and often further drives to metro areas for specialized healthcare providers. The pandemic highlighted these challenges while adding many new ones as local resources became even more strained.
A dramatic expansion in telehealth has occurred over the past year, as more patients sought out care without the risk and inconvenience of going to a doctor's office. The Biden Administration recently announced key telehealth investments totaling $19 million that will expand telehealth services in rural areas and other underserved communities.
A total of 36 recipients will receive funds through the Health Resources and Services Administration to provide healthcare to these communities in the following areas:
$6.5 Million to Telehealth Centers of Excellence (COE)
Telehealth Centers of Excellence (COE) are telehealth incubators that pilot new services, track patient outcomes, and publish research. The work that they do is used to create a framework for future telehealth programs.
These centers establish an evidence base for best telehealth practices. They are found in academic medical centers and can be accessed by patients in rural medically underserved areas. The patient base in these areas includes many with chronic health issues and high rates of poverty.
$4.55 Million to Telehealth Resource Centers (TRCs)
Telehealth Resource Centers (TRCs) give organizations and individuals information, assistance, and education on virtual healthcare. They help patients who are looking for telehealth services connect with them based on their specific needs. They also assist organizations seeking to provide telehealth services.
The financial award is being divided between 12 regional and two national TRCs. In addition to the guidance above, the national centers will offer expert resources on telehealth policy. They will help organizations navigate areas that include licensing, patient privacy, and reimbursements. Additionally, they will guide organizations toward needed technology that includes cybersecurity programs, audiovisual equipment, and other key system integration plans.
$4.28 Million to Technology-Enabled Learning Program (TTELP)
Nine agencies that offer tele-mentoring programs will receive funds to expand their reach to rural and other medically underserved communities. The funding will help provide training and support to primary care providers assisting their patients deal with complex health issues and COVID-19.
$3.85 Million to Evidence-Based Direct Consumer Telehealth Network Program
Funds for this program were divided between 11 organizations to help health networks expand access to services and assess the effectiveness of care for patients, payers, and healthcare providers. Assistance will be spread among health service areas that include primary care, behavioral health care, and acute care such as urgent care centers.
As we move forward, telehealth is expected to continue to account for more healthcare interactions. By making these funds available, the administration has offered organizations in the healthcare field new tools to reach patients and expand the services that they offer.