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Telehealth Gives Rural Tennessee Residents Access to Specialist Care

Memphis-based University Clinical Health is installing telehealth technology in two west Tennessee clinics, giving rural and remote residents access to specialist services and opening the door to improved population health outcomes.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- Residents in rural west Tennessee will soon have access to specialist consults through a telehealth network being set up in two health centers.

Memphis-based University Clinical Health, 130-doctor physician group affiliated with the University of Tennessee’s College of Medicine, is installing audio-visual digital health technology in two clinics serving McKenzie and Tipton counties. Executives say the telemedicine platform will enable rural and remote residents to meet virtually with UCH specialists.

“Those are both primary care sites, and we’re going to provide this videoconferencing network, with access to our specialists, to provide services to those two locations,” Joe Misleh, UCH’s Executive Director for Business Development, told the Memphis Daily News. “Starting with our dermatologists and our rheumatologists, there’s just kind of a void – there’s a void in specialist services in those two places particularly and in a lot of the rural towns in West Tennessee and throughout the state.”

The program, expected to go live within a month, follows a national trend in which health systems and large hospitals are using telemedicine and telehealth to reach underserved communities through community health centers, clinics, even schools.

The telehealth networks  enable rural communities to access specialty care services that residents might otherwise have to drive hundreds of miles to receive. Without that access, resident might otherwise forego healthcare services, which in turn leads to more expensive emergency care and increases in chronic care.

“Healing and health is connected to the support you have around you,” says James Sheets, Vice President of Outreach Services Development at Intermountain Healthcare, which uses telehealth and telemedicine to expand healthcare access beyond the health system’s 22 hospitals to rural clinics and health centers.

“Our goal is to keep care in the communities,” he says.

The benefits also add up financially. According to a study published in April 2017 in Value Health, the University of California Davis Health System saw savings of almost $3 million over nine years with a telemedicine platform serving remote clinics and health centers. The study looked beyond clinical outcomes to focus on travel time and impact on the environment.

Misleh said UCH is also talking with the Tennessee Primary Care Association about extending telehealth services to their statewide network of primary care clinics.

“This dovetails quite nicely with our mission of providing care to underserved markets and also our initiatives in population health management as well as rural medicine,” he said, adding the platform will expand to more specialties in time. “It’s a good tie-in and an appropriate time to add this service to our previous range of services, and it opens up access for patients who otherwise wouldn’t have access to these types of physicians and specialists.”

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