Diabetes pilot debuts in Mississippi

Telehealth work could be replicated across the country
By Anthony Brino
10:57 AM

A remote care management pilot that makes use of mHealth tools and services has been launched in Mississippi. Officials hope it will make an impact in the state with the highest percentage of adult diabetics and cut into the $3 billion in diabetes-related health costs that the state incurs each year.

The Diabetes Telehealth Network was unveiled last week by Gov. Phil Bryant. The public-private partnership, which includes the University of Mississippi Medical Center, North Sunflower Medical Center, GE Healthcare, Intel-GE Care Innovations and CSpire Wireless, is being billed as the first of its kind, targeting at-risk residents in underserved areas.

Of which, the Republican governor said during his recent State of the State press conference, there are many.

[See also: Voice IT could improve diabetes safety.]

Mississippi has 372,000 adult diabetics -- more than 11 percent of the state's adult population, compared to the national rate of 8.3 percent — with annual diabetes-related medical expenses of $2.74 billion, according to the American Diabetes Association. Mostly rural and working class, Mississippi is also ranked as the unhealthiest state in country by the UnitedHealth Foundation, suffering from high instances of obesity, smoking and inactivity.

The $1.6 million project, with costs split between the partners, will recruit roughly 200 patients this spring and focus on the Mississippi Delta, a region in the northwest part of the state between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers where more than 12 percent of adults have diabetes.

[See also: New online program aims to curtail diabetes, cut healthcare costs.]

Patients will be able to share data on blood pressure, glucose levels and weight, then talk via phone or video chat with University of Mississippi Medical Center clinicians in Jackson through the Intel-GE platform.

Intel-GE and medical center officials describe the approach as “just-in-time” education that can help diabetics avoid complications and also sustain lifestyle changes.

“Until now, this type of coordinated care that engages the patient in their home setting was simply not an option,” said Kristi Henderson, telehealth director at UMMC, which offers telehealth services in cardiology, dermatology, pediatrics and stroke care in partnership with smaller clinics and hospitals. North Sunflower County Hospital in Ruleville, serving patients in the Mississippi Delta, will be collaborating on the diabetes telehealth network pilot.

“We know that diabetes is one of the foremost chronic diseases in Mississippi,” said Henderson, an acute care nurse practitioner who also serves as chief advanced practice officer at UMMC, the state’s only academic medical center.

The 18-month pilot “will serve as a proof-of-concept as we look to expand this model geographically and to other diseases,” Henderson said in a media release.

"Then we expand it across Mississippi and across the nation," Bryant said in his press conference. "This is not just Mississippi. This is something that all nation will be watching and monitoring."

The state initiative comes as the federal government is still working out ways to pay for more telehealth. In 2014’s Medicare physician fee schedule, CMS isexpanding telehealth reimbursement for Medicare basically to “the fringes of metropolitan areas,” as the American Telehealth Association put it, but not as far as some would hope.

It still leaves out regions like much of the Mississippi Delta, at least for Medicare. Mississippi actually requires telehealth reimbursement from Medicaid and private payers, one of 16 states, along with Washington D.C., to do so.

The pilot should help bring momentum to telehealth in the state and help solve problems of Internet infrastructure and computer access — in this case bringing mobile tablets, an option more affordable than laptops would have been even just a few years ago.

This story first appeared in Government Health IT.

Mobile, Telehealth
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