Mississippi Serving as Telehealth Model for USA
Mississippi has been a leading adopter of telehealth and its successes have had an effect on other states and the debate over telehealth policy at the federal level, Politico reports.
Mississippi ranks near the bottom for many measures of overall health, including having the second-highest rate of obesity. In addition, the Association of American Medical College's 2013 State Physician Workforce Data Book found the state had the worst shortage of physicians in the country.
In response, health care stakeholders in 2013 launched the Center for Telehealth program at the University of Mississippi Medical Center to connect emergency department physicians in Jackson, Miss., with three rural hospitals using telehealth technology.
The program now remotely connects with 165 sites -- covering 35 specialties such as psychiatry and premature infant care -- and provides about 8,000 telemedicine visits per month.
Meanwhile, the state Legislature in 2012 passed a bill requiring private insurers to reimburse for telehealth services at the same rate as they do for in-person services. The state Legislature also passed legislation last year covering remote patient monitoring, and the state's Medicaid program reimburses for some telehealth services.
Early Data Show Positive Results
Kristi Henderson, director of the University of Mississippi Medical Center's Center for Telehealth, said that early data on outcomes have been promising. For example, she said that patients receiving telehealth services in rural EDs for cardiac arrest had, on average, fared as well as individuals treated at a larger Jackson hospital.
According to Politico, the center has helped small hospitals achieve a:
- 25% reduction in costs in part because they no longer had to hire temporary physicians to work in their EDs; and
- 20% increase in admissions because individuals in rural areas were able to receive care for more complex problems.
Mississippi health officials are currently working to expand telehealth services to schools to assist nurses with providing care, including for chronic conditions. According to Politico, early results of school nurses use of remote monitoring technology demonstrate that it has helped to control blood sugar levels among diabetics.
Effect on Other States, Federal Telehealth Policy Debate
Arkansas, which shares images via telehealth connections with every ED in the state, has learned from Mississippi's adoption of telehealth, according to Tina Benton, who runs a monitoring program at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
Meanwhile, several current and former Mississippi lawmakers have been active in congressional discussions about telehealth policy. For example:
- Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) last congressional session introduced legislation (HR 5380, HR 3306) to expand telehealth coverage through federal health programs and currently leads a House Energy and Commerce Committee working group that is drafting a telehealth measure for the committee's 21st Century Cures initiative; and
- Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) helped launch in early 2014 the telehealth lobbying group Alliance for Connected Care, which has advocated for easing barriers to Medicare reimbursing for telehealth services.
Henderson said that Mississippi officials want to "showcase" the success of telehealth in their state "so that others can replicate it." She added, "Imagine if you cleared (the barriers) at a federal level what can happen" (Pittman, Politico, 2/26).
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