Arizona telemedicine program snags federal grant to launch regional center

By Bernie Monegain
10:15 AM

The Arizona Telemedicine Program at The University of Arizona College of Medicine has received a $1.13 million federal grant to create the Southwest Regional Telehealth Resource Center, part of a nationwide effort to support the transition to electronic health records and implementation of telehealth services.

The Southwest Regional Telehealth Resource Center, which covers Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah, will be part of a national network of seven regional resource centers and one national resource center, the Center for Telehealth and E-Health Law in Washington, D.C.

The funds were granted by the Office for the Advancement of Telehealth, part of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), under the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Tucson-based Southwest Telehealth Center will provide assistance with electronic health record system selection, implementation and management as well as help-desk technical support for physicians and others in its region. Users include independent healthcare organizations and practicing physicians that are, or plan to be, telehealth service providers or users. The center also will support clinical applications needs assessments, facility design, assistance with legal, regulatory and reimbursement issues, business plan development and grant writing.

The ATP has served as a resource center for its 55-member organization for more than a decade. The Southwest Telehealth Center will leverage its resources, expand services and offer them to healthcare organizations and physician practitioners in the Southwest, according to ATP executives. The ATP is one of only two organizations in the United States with American Telemedicine Association-certified training programs.

More than 800 trainees, including healthcare professionals from other states and nations, have participated in ATP's telemedicine training programs. The ATP's help desk responded to more than 1,000 requests for services last year, many of them urgent.

"Timing for the awarding of the Southwest Telehealth Center grant by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is excellent for Arizona," said Ronald S. Weinstein, MD, founding director of the Arizona Telemedicine Program. "The federal government has made educating physicians about electronic health records and encouraging them to embrace the technology a high national priority."

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius also has made an additional $598 million in grants available to establish approximately 70 regional centers to provide clinicians with hands-on technical assistance selecting electronic health-record systems.

"The Southwest Telehealth Center is relevant since providing resources to physicians for implementation of an EHR in their offices is now part of the Arizona Telemedicine Program's mission and the Southwest Telehealth Center is an HHS-sponsored, federally designated entity," Weinstein said. "The Southwest Telehealth Center not only helps define a footprint for the Southwest region with respect to such training centers but could increase Arizona's competitiveness for these new regional center grants. Once again, Arizona has a head start with respect to addressing national health-care priorities."

"Arizona has the edge on many other states when it comes to being competitive for health information technology federal funding," Weinstein said. "Developing and sustaining top-notch innovative programs and generating competitive federal grant fundable programs often go hand-in-hand.

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Digital Transformation

Top row - left to right: Dr Don Rucker, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), HHS Office of the Secretary, US, Tim Kelsey, SVP - Analytics, HIMSS, Australia and Dr Ahmed Balkhair, Saudi Arabia’s Digital Transformation Advisor, Ministry of Health. 

Bottom row: Dr Anne Snowdon, Director of Clinical Research - Analytics, HIMSS, Canada.

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