HHS gives U. of Mississippi Medical Center, Medical University of South Carolina national telehealth designation

UMMC's 14-year telehealth program will be one of two national centers for ongoing research. (University of Mississippi Medical Center)

An agency within the Department of Health and Human Services has appointed medical centers in South Carolina and Mississippi as the country’s two designated Telehealth Centers of Excellence.

This week, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) named the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) and the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) as national coordinating centers for telehealth. Both organizations will receive an initial grant of $600,000, with the opportunity for an additional $2 million in federal funding over the next two years.

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With the national designation, the two medical centers will be a clearinghouse for telehealth research and provide technical assistance to programs across the country.

UMMC’s Center for Telehealth was launched 14 years ago and gradually emerged as a leader in telemedicine to improve care for the state’s rural population. Michael Adcock, the center’s executive director, said the program is already one of the most comprehensive in the country, but the designation from HRSA will allow the program to expand its research portfolio and assess the impact of telehealth costs.

“While our center has been able to show some impressive outcomes, we have not had the staff to focus on researching telehealth delivery models and outcome comparisons,” Adcock said in an announcement.

Mississippi legislators lauded the partnership with HHS to further test the use of telehealth technologies.

“As a Telehealth Center of Excellence, UMMC will work with federal agencies, providers, vendors, researchers, patients, and other groups to address existing challenges to the adoption of telehealth, to establish standards and best practices, and to evaluate emerging technologies,” Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said in a release.

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Meanwhile, MUSA just launched its Center for Telehealth in July. Although the medical center’s telehealth program has grown significantly over the last several years, it was spread out across the medical campus. The new center provides a dedicated space for telehealth research, training and education, and grant money from the federal government will allow MUSC to expand and refine its existing approach that reaches more than 200 locations across the state.

“Grant funds will allow the MUSC telehealth team to leverage the unique qualities intrinsic to our academic medical center and extend this mission nationally to accelerate the dissemination of best practices to achieve effective and efficient care,” Shawn Valenta, MUSC Health Center of Telehealth director, said in an announcement.