Biden administration invests $ 19 million to strengthen rural telehealth


Dive brief:

  • The Biden administration assessed more than $ 19 million in grants to expand telehealth in rural and underserved communities, which continued to lack access to care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The investments will provide funds to train primary care providers, strengthen groups providing virtual care, pilot new telehealth services and research the effectiveness of digitally delivered care in rural areas.
  • The $ 19 million will be distributed to 36 award winners through the HHS Health Resources and Services Administration, the agency said on Wednesday.

Dive overview:

The use of telehealth skyrocketed last year during the pandemic, but declined slightly earlier this year as widespread vaccination efforts caused the number of cases to plummet. But now, as the United States sees an increase in COVID-19 infections due to the delta variant and hospitals in many regions delaying non-emerging procedures, early evidence suggests patients are turning again in droves towards virtual care to access the necessary medical services.

But as Washington continues to determine how much telehealth access will be allowed after the expiration of the public health emergency, the Biden administration seeks to strengthen virtual care to ensure access as COVID-19 continues to rise. slam the United States

In a Wednesday statement on the new disbursements, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said telehealth was “crucial” to providing practical and sustainable health care, especially in rural areas.

Even before the pandemic, patients in rural areas faced serious disparities in health care access and outcomes. According to a February study by the Chartis Group, more than 130 rural hospitals have closed in the past decade, while more than 450 are currently vulnerable to closure. And although 20% of Americans live in rural areas, less than 10% of the country’s doctors practice there, according to the American Hospital Association.

President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” program, which includes the US $ 1.9 trillion bailout adopted in March, includes measures to strengthen rural health care and has already funded poor areas. served.

In June, HRSA provided $ 425 million to rural health clinics for testing and mitigation of COVID-19; while in July, the agency allocated $ 100 million to rural health clinics to promote the COVID-19 vaccine, and $ 398 million to small rural hospitals for COVID-19 testing and mitigation efforts . And earlier this month, the Biden administration allocated $ 90 million to help rural communities tackle drug addiction.

Proponents of telehealth also point to the potential of the technology to improve the ubiquitous access problems in rural America. The new HHS funding announced on Wednesday includes investments in four of the HRSA’s eight active programs for the advancement of telehealth.

Under the Telehealth Technology-Assisted Learning Program, $ 4.28 million will be provided to nine health organizations to create tele-mentoring programs and networks in rural and medically underserved communities, said the HHS.

The funds are intended to help specialists in academic medical centers train and support primary care providers to treat patients with complex illnesses. Recipients include the American Academy of Pediatrics, Oregon Health & Science University, and the University of New Mexico

Next, $ 4.55 million will go to 12 regional and two national telehealth resource centers, which support organizations that provide or wish to provide telehealth services to patients. The two national centers are the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and the California-based Public Health Institute, while regional recipients include the University of Utah, the University of Arizona, the California Telehealth Network, and the Indiana Rural Health Association.

The Direct-to-Consumer Evidence-Based Telehealth Network Program provides $ 3.85 million to 11 organizations to help health networks increase access to virtual care.

The funds, which go to groups such as the HealtHIE Georgia Corporation and Texas A&M University, will expand access to health services in primary care, acute care and behavioral health care.

Finally, $ 6.5 million in the Telehealth Centers of Excellence program is being distributed among academic medical centers, the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and the University of South Carolina Medical University to research how virtual care can improve health care in medically underserved rural areas with high prevalence of chronic disease and high poverty rates.

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