AcuteCare Telemedicine Blog


Managing Diabetes Remotely With Telemedicine

Diabetes afflicts more than 22 million Americans, or 7% of the total population, and the number of people diagnosed every year is skyrocketing. At a cost of $245 billion in 2012, the disease’s toll on the economy has increased by more than 40% since 2007, according to a recent report from the American Diabetes Association.

Mississippi, which ranks second after West Virginia in the percentage of residents affected by the chronic disease, is taking steps to reduce devastating effects on the state economy and the overall health of Mississippians. Early this year, Gov. Phil Bryant, the University of Mississippi Medical Center and three private technology partners announced a plan to help low-income residents manage their diabetes remotely through the use of telemedicine. The goal is to help them keep the disease in check and avoid unnecessary hospitalizations while remaining as active and productive as possible. To make the project possible, Bryant signed a first-of-its-kind law requiring private insurers, Medicaid and state employee health plans to reimburse medical providers for services dispensed via computer screens and telecommunications at the same rate they would pay for in-person medical care.

The new reimbursement law will also pave the way for similar telemedicine projects for other chronic diseases, said Dr. Kristi Henderson, the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s chief of telemedicine, who is heading the project. Initially the project, called the Diabetes Telehealth Network, will enlist 200 people with diabetes in one of the state’s poorest regions, the Mississippi Delta, who will be given Internet-capable computer tablets loaded with software that will enable medical professionals at the University of Mississippi and a hospital in the region, North Sunflower Medical Center, to remotely monitor patients’ test results and symptoms. A third technology partner will provide technical support for the wireless telecommunications services needed to transmit the medical data.

The price tag for Mississippi’s telemedicine project is about $1.6 million. But to expand the program or recreate it somewhere else, Henderson said, would cost much less because the groundwork would be done. “We want to prove a model and replicate it.”

Nationwide, one in every five health care dollars is spent caring for people with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Mississippi’s telemedicine law, said Gary Capistrant, public policy director at the American Telemedicine Association, goes further than any other state to remove what the telehealth industry considers its biggest impediment, lack of insurance reimbursement.

Numerous states and medical groups already have expressed an interest in the project, Henderson said. “If we can do it in Mississippi, where chronic disease is at its worst, where poverty is at its worst, and where transportation and workforce issue are at their worst, we can make it work anywhere.”


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