Feds announce plans to launch 3 new telehealth resource centers

By Eric Wicklund
09:34 AM

The nation’s network of telehealth resource centers currently resembles an incomplete quilt, with nine centers covering parts of the country while leaving some rather conspicuous regions uncovered. This week, that quilt began to look a little more complete.

The U.S. Health Resources and Service Administration has awarded Regional Telehealth Resource Center grants of almost $1 million apiece to three organizations charged with launching centers based in Maine, Indiana and Virginia, creating public-private partnerships that will offer guidance and resources to those looking to enter this fast-growing segment of the healthcare network.

In Maine, the non-profit Medical Care Development, Inc., based in Augusta, will use a three-year grant of $325,000 each year to establish the NorthEast Telehealth Resource Center (NETRC), to promote telehealth in the six New England states and New York. The group will work with the Fletcher Allen Health Care Telemedicine Program at the University of Vermont College of Medicine and the Maine Telemedicine Services Division of the Regional Medical Center in Lubec, Maine, along the Canadian border.

“This award is a result of the excellent work the Maine Telehealth Collaborative has done over the past years to develop a telehealth network both in Maine and throughout New England,” said Sheila Pinette, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control (ME CDC), which helped organize the collaborative.

Margaret I. Gradie, program manager at Medical Care Development, said the success of the collaborative’s telehealth conference, held for the past two years at the University of Maine in Orono, points to the interest in developing telehealth programs throughout the Northeast. Last year’s conference featured Dale Alverson, director of the Center for Telehealth and Cybermedicine Research at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center and then-president of the American Telemedicine Association, who pointed out that some of the nation’s earliest telemedicine efforts originated in Maine.

Gradie said the NETRC will draw on the successes of other resource centers around the country in offering technical assistance and educational activities, as well as setting up regional conferences and user forums.

“The goal … is not to offer telehealth itself, but to serve as a sort of matchmaker,” she said. “We want to encourage the growth of telehealth throughout the Northeast and create a favorable environment.”

In Charlottesville, Va., the University of Virginia Center for Telehealth will use its grant to establish the Mid-Atlantic Telehealth Resource Center, which will link urban and rural healthcare providers in the District of Columbia, Virginia, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina and West Virginia. Officials hope to launch the resource center in October.

“We are delighted that HRSA has provided us with the opportunity to share models of care provided via telehealth with our partners across the mid-Atlantic region,” said Karen Rheuban, MD, director of the UVA Center for Telehealth and a former president of the ATA. “It will be a privilege to collaborate with distinguished institutions to further improve access to care using advanced and innovative technologies.”

The UVA’s telemedicine network already includes more than 40 subspecialties and 85 locations in Virginia, saving residents an estimated 6.7 million miles of travel for medical care, according to David Cattell-Gordon, director of the UVA’s Office of Telemedicine. In addition, last year Gov. Bob McDonnell signed a law requiring insurance companies to reimburse providers for telemedicine services.

“The grant provides an opportunity to greatly expand telehealth offerings and partnerships across the mid-Atlantic region,” he said.

In Indiana, the Indiana Rural Health Association will use its grant to launch the Upper Midwest Telehealth Resource Center, a consortium of active telehealth organizations serving providers in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Michigan. The IRHA currently works with Indiana University Health on a number of telehealth projects, including a telestroke network serving the state’s seven critical access hospitals.

“By being awarded the Regional Telehealth Resource Center grant, (the) Indiana Rural Health Association is better positioned to do what we do best,” said Don Kelso, executive director of the IRHA. “That would be bringing together state and regional partners in a collaborative manner to help promote successful use of a rapidly growing clinical technology that will immediately improve the health of rural residents.”

“IRHA started this process by successfully performing a
similar service by administering the FCC Pilot Project for Indiana, which has helped bring high-speed fiber technology to rural healthcare providers to provide the necessary means for a
successful telehealth process,” he added. “With so much uncertainty and challenges facing rural healthcare providers and the citizens they serve, IRHA has rapidly become a respected and trusted resource
for rural health education and collaboration.”

The UMTRC collaboration currently consists of the IRHA, Indiana University Health, the Community Health Network, Union Hospital’s Richard G. Lugar Center for Rural Health, St. Vincent Health, Indiana Health Information Technology, Affiliated Service Providers and the Indiana State Office of Rural Health.

The three new resource centers will join a network consisting of:

  • The California Telehealth and eHealth Center, based in Sacramento, Calif.;
  • The Pacific Basin Telehealth Resource Center, based at the University of Hawaii in Manoa, serving Hawaii and several Pacific islands;
  • The Great Plains Telehealth Resource and Assistance Center, based at the University of Minnesota, serving Minnesota and the Dakotas;
  • The South Central Telehealth Resource Center, based at the University of Arkansas, serving Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee;
  • The Heartland Telehealth Resource Center, based in Kansas City, Mo., serving Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma;
  • The Southwest Telehealth Resource Center, based at the University of Arizona in Tucson, serving southern California, Nevada, southern Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico;
  • The Northwest Regional Telehealth Resource Center, based in Billings, Mont., serving Montana, Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Utah and Wyoming;
  • The Southeastern Telehealth Resource Center, based in Waycross, Ga., serving Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and other parts of the southeastern United States; and
  • The Telehealth Technology Assessment Center (TTAC), based in Anchorage, Alaska, and operated by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

Also part of the network is the Center for Telehealth & e-Health Law, based in Washington, D.C.