$6M in grants helps states bring telemedicine to poor, rural patients

Six states in the Mississippi Delta region have found an interesting new funding source for telemedicine: The U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA just handed out $6 million in telehealth grants to 25 of the poorest counties in Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi, with the bulk ($3 million) going to The Magnolia State.

Regional groups are using the majority of the funds to develop tele-ICUs, telehealth connectivity between groups of nursing homes, physician tele-visits with rural patients and video-conferencing for physician/nursing education in remote areas.

The largest project will create the virtual urgent care center--Taborian Urgent Care, in Mound Bayou, Miss.--to extend physicians' hours and provide urgent care consults to the town, which is nine miles from the nearest hospital, and 80 miles from the nearest urgent care center, the Associated Press reports.

In one of the more interesting projects, the Delta Health Alliance will use $700,000 to create an eICU at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. The goal: Mississippi specialists will provide tele-stroke, tele-psych and other services to five hospitals in the state's poorest counties, according to MobileHealthWatch.

In Louisiana, one project will provide cardiac, pulmonary, cancer and wound care tele-visits to patients in five rural nursing homes. Another will link eight rural hospitals in the central part of the state with stroke experts, and provide treatment as well as education and training for physicians in rural hospitals. According to the AP, hospitals there have high rates of stroke, but few specialty providers with stroke training.

An Alabama project will provide mobile in two ways: The nearly $400,000 venture will create a mobile van for on-site treatment of patients, but also will include telemedicine equipment to connect the mobile clinicians with patients who cannot reach the van.

At least three of the six states are receiving funds not only to implement telemedicine for patients, but also to provide continuing medical training for nurses and physicians, the USDA says. In Arkansas and Illinois, in particular, virtually all of those states' nearly $900,000 in grants are being used to train respiratory therapists, create computer labs at college nursing programs, and provide distance learning equipment to universities, community colleges and even high schools.

To learn more:
- read the MobileHealthWatch article
- dig into the Farm Futures coverage
- check out the Associated Press article in the Washington Examiner