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

Leila Samy and Bill Menner | November 21, 2014

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.