USDA awards millions for telemedicine

Projects are spread to far reaches of the country

Ozarks Medical Center in Missouri and Flagstaff Medical Center in Arizona are just two hospitals in 25 states across the country that will receive federal funding for telemedicine projects. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced nearly $16 million in USDA grants would be disbursed for distant learning and telemedicine services.

The USDA's Distance Learning and Telemedicine Loan and Grant program provides funding to rural hospitals, clinics, schools and libraries for equipment and technical assistance for telemedicine and distance learning. Grant recipients must demonstrate that they serve rural America, prove there is an economic need and provide at least 15 percent in matching funds.

[See also: Telehealth takes off in rural areas.]

Since 2009, USDA has invested almost $150 million in the Distance Learning and Telemedicine program. The investments complement other USDA efforts to improve rural communications. In FY 2013, USDA provided $305 million in loans for broadband infrastructure. These loans will result in new or upgraded broadband service for about 120,000 rural households, businesses and community institutions once the projects are completed.

{See also: Telehealth key to future of healthcare.]

Hospitals receiving telemedicine grants are:

Alaska
Chugachmiut: $180,656
Funds will be used to re-establish a telemedicine network between Native village sites in the Chugach region and offices in Seward and Anchorage. Clinics in the villages of Tatitlek, Chenega, Port Graham and Nanwalek will be linked with Anchorage and the North Star Clinic.

Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium: $114,842
Funds will be used to purchase video teleconferencing equipment systems for virtual sessions between patients and health care providers. It is projected that nearly 3,200 people will benefit in the first year alone. The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium includes nine organizations that deliver innovative telehealth solutions throughout the  Alaska Federal Health Care system.

Arizona
Flagstaff Medical  Center: $129,412
Funds will be used to purchase digital electronics and software for a telemedicine system linking the Flagstaff medical center with clinics in Coconino, Apache, Mohave and Navajo Counties. This system will connect local caregivers and their patients with specialists at Flagstaff.

Kentucky
Norton Healthcare Foundation: $259,607
Funds will be used to expand the Norton Rural Medicine Initiative. The equipment will allow Norton physicians and other medical specialists in Louisville to consult medical staff and their patients at Breckinridge Health and Westlake Regional Hospitals in Kentucky; and Scott Memorial Hospital in Indiana. With the telemedicine network, patients no longer will have to travel for pulmonary, cardiology, neurology, infectious disease and critical care.

Maine
Community Health & Counseling Services: $103,235
Funds will be used to purchase in-home patient monitors, medication dispensers and screening monitors for Community Health and Counseling Services, which serves patients in Piscataquis and Washington counties with congestive heart failure, medication compliance issues, patients who need speech pathology to address swallowing disorders. The project is expected to reduce preventable hospital visits and emergency room visits, saving time and money.

Missouri
Ozarks Medical Center: $274,638
Funds will be used to buy equipment to expand medical services to Ozarks Medical Center's four hospitals and nine clinics. Services will include tele-stroke, tele-psychiatry, tele-speech therapy and tele-dermatology.

Harrison County Community Hospital District: $500,000
Funds will be used to purchase software and equipment for Harrison County’s teleradiology system. A Radiology Information System will be purchased to connect end-user workstations at clinics in Princeton, Cainsville and Bethany. The project will also fund a new telemedicine unit for the hospital's outpatient clinic. The hospital will be able to improve operations in several departments, including emergency, respiratory therapy
and cardiac rehabilitation.

Mercy Health: $382,748
Funds will be used to purchase equipment and devices for exam rooms in 11 sites in Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Physicians and other medical specialists at Mercy Hospital in St. Louis will use the audio/video equipment for face-to-face consultations, observation and diagnosis, and treatment planning.

Mississippi
University of Mississippi Medical Center: $378,360
Funds will help a consortium of rural hospitals in Mississippi acquire high-definition video teleconferencing units for their emergency rooms, and mobile units for ambulatory care at each hospital. The University of Mississippi Medical Center will make specialists and medical personnel available through the video network to respond interactively to live emergencies from any of the participating sites.

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