AcuteCare Telemedicine Blog


Telehealth Pushed to the Forefront of Public Health Agendas

Governor Phil Bryant of Mississippi is standing up in support of telemedicine technology. In Mississippi, Gov. Bryant has introduced a new initiative “The Diabetes Telehealth Network”. Unveiled recently in his State of the State address, the Network is a partnership of University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC), North Sunflower Medical Center (NSMC), GE Healthcare, Intel-GE Care Innovations and CSpire. It’s designed to offer those with diabetes consistent and timely access to UMMC clinicians via telehealth technology.

Patients in the 18-month program will have a tablet with mobile broadband access to record vital signs like blood sugar levels and send that information to UMMC doctors, specialists, nurses and pharmacists. The results of those daily interactions will allow doctors to adjust treatment plans accordingly, said Dr. Kristi Henderson, UMMC’s director of telehealth.

The program’s base will be Ruleville’s North Sunflower Medical Center (RNSMC), which has an existing telehealth partnership with the UMMC. The program’s private partners will provide the technological infrastructure. The initiative resulted from a meeting more than a year ago at the Paris Air Show between state and GE officials. GE operates jet engine and component assembly facilities in Batesville and Ellisville.

Gov. Bryant said the program is centered at RNSMC because, “That was unfortunately the area where diabetes was most concentrated. It’s a rural area. Lack of transportation is a big issue, and that affects access to care.” But there are 372,000 people in the state diagnosed with diabetes, according to the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi. More than 12 percent of adults in the Mississippi Delta were diagnosed in 2010 with type 2 diabetes, according to UMMC statistics. The American Diabetes Association, in a 2012 study, found Mississippians with the disease spent $2.7 billion on health care related to treating it.

If this initiative is successful, it can be scaled up and expanded to meet the needs of diabetic patients throughout the state of Mississippi. Supporting new telecommunication technologies to improve and expand specialized care for chronic disease sufferers is an example of how Mississippi and other state governments appear to be out in front of Congressional law makers when it comes to putting forth initiatives that remove barriers and implement new strategies that seek to modernize our established healthcare delivery model and improve access and quality of care to patients across the country.



States are Leading the Way on Telemedicine Expansion

The states of Missouri and Kentucky are the two most recent states that are making significant strides in increased implementation and utilization of telemedicine.  Effective Jan. 1, 2014, a Missouri law (House Bill 986) makes private insurers responsible for reimbursing providers offering telehealth services just as these payers are for in-person services.  The bill states that insurers “shall not deny coverage for a health care service on the basis that the health care service is provided through telehealth if the same service would be covered if provided through face-to-face diagnosis, consultation, or treatment.”  While the new legislation benefits patients with private insurance payers, Missouri law still lacks provision for Medicaid beneficiaries.

In Kentucky, where state laws are in place for private and public payers, the legislators have expanded coverage of telemedicine services for Medicaid beneficiaries so long as these are delivered exclusively by way of interactive video-conferencing. The telehealth services covered by the law are extensive, ranging from mental health evaluations and care management to diabetes and physical therapy consultations.

These most recent events are indicative of individual state legislatures making the most aggressive progress towards removing regulations and passing legislation to accommodate the new technology’s use, while the federal government continues to focus on achieving a last place finish in the race for expansion.

American Telemedicine Association (ATA) CEO Jonathan Linkous said in a public statement recently. “The federal government places unnecessarily strict barriers and restraints on how Medicare patients are served when they deserve access to quality healthcare, regardless of geographic location and technology used.”

Kentucky and Missouri are joining a growing list of states that are realizing the benefit of telemedicine as a cost-effective delivery model for quality healthcare even though the two states have taken different approaches to expand access to telemedicine services. “This is a true win-win scenario,” said Jonathan Linkous, “First, it is a big victory for patients in Kentucky and Missouri, who now have greater access to the best-possible healthcare. It’s also a win for the treasury and taxpayers in those states, who will save significantly on public healthcare costs.”

With healthcare costs rising rapidly and access to specialized care diminishing for many Americans, it is well past a reasonable period of time for the top payer of medical services, the federal healthcare agencies and the U.S. Congress, to pick up the pace on making advances in passing and implementing legislation that will promote the advancement of telemedicine throughout the entire country.



Collaboration Across the Pond

Relations between the US and the UK are particularly amiable, arguably at an all time high, and moving towards modernity, our cultures have engaged in a ‘give and take’ from one another. However, when it comes to discussion of healthcare policy, our politicians and citizens are often quick to dismiss one another’s perspectives.

Despite the huge disparities in approach, each country’s current desires in regards to changing their healthcare situation are fairly equivalent. Both nations are working towards getting better value from healthcare expenditures, encouraging providers to focus on quality with better incentives, and controlling rising health care costs, regardless of the differences in who is paying.

Telemedicine offers both systems huge advantages in the pursuit of these goals, and the two can learn from one another. In the US, telemedicine has helped curb unnecessary and irresponsible healthcare spending, an important consideration for a nation currently obsessed with combating rising costs detrimental to its economy. Abroad, electronic patient care records are managed efficiently, falling in line with the expectations of the unified, government-controlled National Health Service (NHS) responsible for administrating healthcare.

It is important to keep in mind the great differences in context between the implementation of telemedicine in the United Kingdom and here at home. Of course, the NHS provides citizens with what we have dubbed as “Universal” health care, which is free to the patient at the point of service. In contrast to the Brits’ centrally governed and tax-funded system, care in the US is available through a multitude of competitive providers and is paid for by a patchwork of public and private insurers. The fact of the matter is, telemedicine works as a solution to a myriad of challenges, and both countries are discovering new solutions every day.

Healthcare officials in both countries envision telemedicine playing prominent roles in the future of their respective systems. Perhaps in the short term, this vision will be a common ground on which to open a mutually beneficial dialogue to address the unique challenges facing each nation.



ACT Speaks at Connecting Alabama Summit

AcuteCare Telemedicine (ACT) Partner Dr. Keith Sanders and Sales Executive Michael Woodcock are travelling to Prattville, Alabama to attend the first annual Connecting Alabama – Telehealth and Broadband Summit from October 17th – 19th.

The event is hosted by Connecting ALABAMA, a government-sponsored initiative working with citizens and community leaders from across the state to improve high speed internet deployment, and the Alabama Partnership for TeleHealth, a charitable nonprofit corporation with a focus on increasing access to healthcare through the innovative use of technology. Together, the organizations hope to provide an opportunity to extend telehealth services throughout all 67 counties of the state.

Topics of discussion at the event range from technical considerations, to the state’s role in deployment, to policy issues, to the current state of telehealth.  Dr. Sanders will speak on Thursday, October 18th about the future of telemedicine, specifically stroke teleneurology. The work of Dr. Sanders and the other physicians of ACT in the field of teleneurology is particularly relevant in any discussion of healthcare in Alabama, as the state is located in the region of the southeastern United States known as the ‘Stroke Belt’ for its unusually high incidence of stroke and other cardiovascular diseases.

Dr. Sanders’ presentation will address necessary tactics for successful and sustainable implementation of telestroke programs, and the characteristics of effective regionally-oriented stroke care that are enabled by telehealth. “I am excited for the opportunity to share ACT’s vision of extending expert neurological care throughout the rural and underserved parts of Alabama and the rest of the country,” says Sanders. “Opening the dialogue at this inaugural event is a key step towards achieving a future with a better standard of care in a more interconnected world.”

For more information about ACT, visit www.acutecaretelemed.com.



US Government Stands Behind Telemedicine

The USDA has announced its renewed support for the development of telemedicine programs in rural areas. The latest round of funding is part of the agency’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine Loan and Grant Program (DLT), designed specifically to “meet the educational and health care needs of rural America.” Through loans, grants and loan/grant combinations, advanced telecommunications technologies such as those utilized in the practice of telemedicine provide enhanced learning and health care opportunities for rural residents.

The agency has long stood behind telehealth initiatives, touting the abilities of telemedicine to increase citizen access to quality healthcare while simultaneously opening lines of communication to enhance educational for hospitals and schools in underserved areas. Practitioners in the field of telemedicine share in the ideology that where a patient chooses to live should not affect the quality of care they can access.

The upgraded equipment and professional development that will result from the grants will help extend telemedicine services to a larger network of rural dwellers. As telemedicine networks grow, the benefits will continue to grow, both in terms of both improved patient outcomes and reduced healthcare costs.