Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The USDA Invests in Telehealth to the Tune of $30 Million

Just a few days ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a statement announcing grants to help fund telehealth initiatives in rural areas. The total of the grants exceeds $30 million. You can view the statement here.

A serious shortage of health care professionals is the primary reason for the injection of funds. The shortages are most severe in rural areas like the frontier regions of South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, etc. The USDA highlights South Dakota as an example: 83% of South Dakota’s counties are designated shortage areas, a staggering number. In an interview following the announcement of these new grants, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said, "Rural Americans deserve the same opportunities for education and medical care as metropolitan-area residents, and these funds will make that happen."

Grants like those being offered by the USDA have been instrumental in developing and expanding telehealth services cost effectively to the smallest and most underserved hospitals and communities in our nation. Initiatives like this remind us of the need for better care in remote areas, and the power of telehealth to meet that need.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Health IT Preps for ACO's, but Miss a Critical Piece

As major health IT vendors such as Epic and Cerner prepare their product offerings for the new Accountable care Organization ("ACO") reimbursement structures,  they are missing a substantial tool by not including telehealth solutions. These ACO solutions are actually their core EHR products slightly re-designed to accommodate the sharing of information across multiple providers working within an ACO group practice. 

ACO reimbursements will be based on the overall health outcomes experienced by a patient across the many possible specialties and primary care treatment protocols that comprise that specific patient's healthcare requirements. Providers will be rewarded for having healthier patients; additionally, CMS will look for reduced testing and drug-drug interactions through shared results and protocols. ACO reimbursements also include a significantly higher reward for implementing and meeting electronic medical record meaningful use criteria.

Telehealth has shown in many studies to offer comparable outcomes (of course based on type of condition, severity, state of the patient's overall health, etc) for a lower cost; validated by the deployment of large hospital systems and even deep investigation by CMS. InteractiveMD is working hard to shape solutions that can work along side EHR platforms and integrate into existing provider work flows. It's online doctors provide access to tens of thousands of patients nationwide. I'm excited for the future of telehealth as a viable complement to our national healthcare system.

-Ghen Sugimoto