Rural hospitals and other healthcare providers stand to benefit from $4.5 million in federal grants being awarded to telemedicine projects in 10 states.
The grants are the first in a series of awards that will be allocated over three years through the Rural Telemedicine Grant Program, which is administered by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration's Office of Rural Health Policy.
"Telemedicine services have shown that telecommunications technologies can overcome distance, and physicians can monitor distant patients, provide consultations, deliver mental health services and promote preventive measures," said Philip Lee, M.D., HHS assistant secretary for health and director of the Public Health Service.
Telemedicine is a two-way audio and video communications network that gives rural hospitals and physicians access to medical and technological resources via telephone lines or satellite links. Telemedicine offers television-quality pictures and sound, allowing for the transmission of images such as X-rays and sounds such as beating hearts heard through electronic stethoscopes.
Rural hospitals will benefit because telemedicine offers them the opportunity to keep patients at their facilities.
In most cases, grant recipients are academic institutions that will serve as the hub tertiary facility for rural hospitals. As part of their award, the recipients must provide the following to their rural hospital satellites: mental health and substance-abuse counseling; radiology; cardiology; dermatology; obstetrics and gynecology; orthopedics; pediatrics; and trauma services.
Hospitals may spend as much as $1,000 a month on telephone line charges depending on the local phone and tax rates (Feb. 7, p. 44). But financial benefits can be gained by reducing transportation costs and more expensive care at tertiary facilities.
Rural hospitals also can save on equipment costs. Cameras and monitors at each site allow for emergency medical assistance, medical consultation, resident programs, continuing medical education and other services.
The grant recipients are: High Plains Rural Health Network, Fort Morgan, Colo.; University of Kentucky, Lexington, Ky.; University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; University of Missouri, Columbia, Mo.; Deaconess-Billings (Mont.) Clinic; Good Samaritan Health System, Kearney, Neb.; Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital, Cooperstown, N.Y.; East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, N.C.; Rapid City Regional Hospital, Rapid City, S.D.; and University of Washington, Seattle.