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New York Launches Telehealth Initiative to Improve Perinatal Care

Included in Governor Andrew Cuomo's sweeping 2019 Women's Justice Agenda, the four-part initiative aims to boost telehealth and telemedicine access to perinatal services for rural residents and obstetric care providers.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- New York state officials are launching a “comprehensive telehealth initiative” aimed at improving access to perinatal care, particularly in rural parts of the state.

The four-part program was unveiled this week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as part of his 2019 Women’s Justice Agenda. It calls for:

  1. As much as $5 million in funding to regional perinatal centers and other providers to expand telehealth programs in rural areas;
  2. The creation of a Perinatal Telehealth Workgroup “to outline key strategies and barriers for obstetric providers to expand telehealth services and consultation and consult with key rural communities around the state on their specific needs;”
  3. Encouraging rural hospitals participating in the Rural Health Care Access Development Program to launch or expand perinatal telehealth services; and
  4. The development of a telemedicine program based on the Project ECHO model to help obstetric providers working in rural regions.

While the initiative is embedded in a markedly political effort designed to – as Cuomo put it - “serve as a direct rebuke to Washington's assault on women's rights,” it touches on a healthcare trend embraced by both sides of the aisle: using telehealth and mHealth to improve access to care in underserved communities and boost maternal and infant health outcomes.

Health systems and public health programs in several states have been developing telehealth platforms that allow expecting and new parents to access resources – including educational material, peer support, appointment scheduling and even primary care checkups – online and through mobile devices.

“Technology can liberate patients to be able to get care remotely,” Juan Pablo Segura, co-founder and president of the mHealth company Babyscripts, said in a 2018 interview with mHealthIntelligence. “And in that technology, you can start to understand the issues around why they aren’t getting that care.”

New York has been active over the past few years in improving telemedicine and telehealth laws and guidelines to improve access to care, and state lawmakers are currently reviewing 11 bills targeting telemedicine and telehealth, according to the Center for Connected Health Policy. In 2017, the state enacted legislation to expand telehealth programs to schools, child care programs and day care centers.

Just last year, Cuomo included telehealth in a vast array of healthcare recommendations called “Spurring Health Care Innovation Through Regulatory Modernization: Putting Patients First.”

“The ability of telehealth to remotely connect patients and healthcare providers can be an important tool in ensuring access to health care, improving care and patient outcomes, enhancing patient satisfaction, and reducing health care costs through improved population health,” state officials said in a press release announcing the recommendations. “Yet, health care providers and systems in New York State have identified a number of challenges to the adoption and delivery of telehealth services, including financial, statutory and regulatory barriers. New York State will take a landmark step forward to expand access to telehealth services through a series of measures, including expanding the list of eligible originating sites so that patients can receive telehealth services in any setting, including their own homes.”

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