HRSA: "The Future Is Now" for Telehealth
Section: TPCA & Beyond, September 2018

(from HRSA)

William England of the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP) noted recently that the concept of telehealth was first featured in popular science journals of the 1920s. By the 1980s, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) was the leading federal agency in funding and promoting the technology.

In 1988, HRSA's first telehealth programs launched in the FORHP. 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 eight 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 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.

"In fact ... 57 percent of all health centers are utilizing telehealth or are actively exploring the feasibility of implementing a telehealth program," reported the Bureau of Primary Health Care’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 HRSA’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau. 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 of HRSA’s Bureau of Health Workforce.