Telehealth: The Future is Now

HRSA Administrator Dr. George Sigounas applauded the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy at a recent all-hands meeting
HRSA Administrator Dr. George Sigounas applauded the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy at a recent all-hands meeting for leading agency-wide efforts to promote telehealth, making it increasingly possible "to treat a variety of patient populations, no matter where they are located."

 

FORHP's William England (left) and Natassja Manzanero celebrated with OPAE's Matthew Quinn at a reception held at the National Press Club on June 12.

No longer fiction: FORHP's William England (left) and Natassja Manzanero celebrated with OPAE's Matthew Quinn at a reception held at the National Press Club on June 12. HRSA's Office for the Advancement of Telehealth received a 2018 Federal Health IT Innovation Award.

 

England noted at the recent all-hands meeting that the concept of telehealth was first featured in popular science journals of the 1920s. By the 1980s, HRSA was the leading federal agency in funding and promoting the technology.

from the days when telehealth "was science fiction," as Dr. Sigounas recently observed, advances in digital technology have put the futuristic concept in the palms of providers' hands.
Above, from the days when telehealth "was science fiction," as Dr. Sigounas recently observed, advances in digital technology have put the futuristic concept in the palms of providers' hands. Today, more than 1,000 HRSA grants include a telehealth component.

 

In 1988, HRSA's first telehealth programs launched in the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Four years later, the Office for the Advancement of Telehealth was formally established. Today, it's a $23 million enterprise supporting projects in all 50 states and 8 territories. Technologies include Internet-based technical assistance, provider-to-provider (and patient-to-provider) videoconferencing, "store-and-forward" diagnostic imaging, streaming media and closed-circuit communications.

The Office supports 12 regional and two national telehealth hubs HRSA exit disclaimer that work together with the HRSA Program Coordinator to tailor technical assistance to specific grantees, including how-to sessions and webcasts on reimbursement, legal/regulatory issues, marketing, training and telehealth program development.

 Telehealth Work Group: (From left) Joan Scott (MCHB); Dr. Judy Steinberg (BPHC); Bill England (FORHP); and Sara Williams (BHW)
Telehealth Work Group: (From left) Joan Scott (MCHB); Dr. Judy Steinberg (BPHC); Bill England (FORHP); and Sara Williams (BHW) described a litany of often ingenuous ways in which HRSA is using telehealth to deliver care to fragile and isolated populations.

 

"In fact ... 57 percent of all health centers are utilizing telehealth or are actively exploring the feasibility of implementing a telehealth program," reported BPHC's Dr. Judy Steinberg.  "And 38 percent of all health centers have established telehealth programs."

The technology is making it possible for local doctors to consult in real time with specialists at a distance in cases involving children with rare genetic disorders, like sickle cell anemia, said Joan Scott of MCHB. Not only are such specialists in short supply, general practitioners typically receive little or no training in the disorders. Moreover, the practice is opening doors for kids with special health care needs - about one out of every five children in America - living in remote areas.

Telehealth also is now freely used by clinicians in HRSA's National Health Service Corps, both as a training and diagnostics medium, said Sara Williams.

Date Last Reviewed:  July 2018