$8.6 Million in Telehealth Grants: ONC and USDA Celebrate National Rural Health Day

More than $20 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grants were announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack November 20, 2014 to support projects all across the country.

Specifically, USDA Rural Development awarded 65 grants across 34 states to improve health care and educational services in rural communities. Of these 65 grants, 31 grants totaling $8.6 million were healthcare related.

For example, the University of Iowa’s eHealth Extension Network received a grant for almost $500,000. This grant will provide more than 70 rural health care facilities in 46 counties in Iowa with telehealth carts equipped with high-quality cameras, as well as video conferencing and cloud-based image sharing software. See Fiscal Year 2014 Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant recipients.
Collaborative Rural Health Initiative:

Today’s grants are the latest in a series of USDA Rural Development investments in rural health and health IT infrastructure needs (including telehealth, health information exchange and electronic health record technology needs) following a Memorandum of Understanding that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and USDA signed in 2011 to help link rural doctors and clinics to USDA Rural Development grants and loans.

Beginning with Iowa in June 2013, HHS and USDA jointly launched a pilot initiative that generated more than $38 million in financing to Critical Access Hospitals and small, rural hospitals across four states by September 2013. As of October 2014, we had expanded this initiative to reach doctors, clinics and hospitals caring for rural and poor communities across 13 states: Iowa, Kansas, Illinois, Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Tennessee, Missouri, Montana, Wyoming and Kentucky.

Benefits of Telehealth for Rural Communities:

Secretary Vilsack said that these telehealth investments mean that “people who live and work in rural areas will not have to travel long distances for specialized health care services.” Additional benefits of telehealth for rural communities include:

  1. More connection and less isolation for rural residents, which leads to higher job satisfaction and retaining of quality rural healthcare professionals. This is particularly beneficial to rural communities because they face significant challenges associated with recruiting and training health care workforce.
  2. Decreased traveling time for patients, which saves travel expenses and time missed from work.
  3. Lower morbidity and mortality rates and decreased healthcare costs related to chronic disease.
  4. Improved care for pediatric and elderly populations with frequent healthcare needs but constrained ability to travel to make their appointments at health care providers located far away from home.
  5. Improved access to specialty consults and professional collaborations
  6. Decreased need for rural health care providers to travel for professional development, which frees up more time for them to care for patients in rural communities.


  1. Navneel Kumar says:

    Do you guys think 20 million is enough for rural health development? What about the billions that are wasted for nothing?


  2. Dave Newman says:


    This is great news for Healthcare IT. I have access to many physicians in my job, and idea of telehealth is usually met with rolled eyes. Most docs just aren’t interested. However, you added the magic word: RURAL. This is where it will totally pay off and make sense. We all know the challenges in rural areas. I believe the key will be to clarify and streamline the process for getting reimbursed. I’ve heard that a lot of insurance plans haven’t quite figured out a workable payment structure. I’d be interested to see if that is beginning to change. Thanks again.

  3. lisa Mardis says:

    How can an organization obtain funding for telaheath services for specialists with rare disorders. We have set registration, contacted international telehealth services, and connected with specialists with our rare disorders willing to assists us who are connected to teladoc. However funding for the cost ranges as 12.00 per individual. Many are without finances or are homeless.


    I am interested in implementing a telehealth program in a new practice for underserved, uninsured/underinsured, Medicaid and medicare beneficiaries in a nurse practitioner run primary care clinic. Is this grant still available? This would be an awesome resource to improve access to care for my patients.

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