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UMMC Earns National Telehealth Center of Excellence Designation

The University of Mississippi Medical Center joins the Medical University of South Carolina as the nation's two newly named National Telehealth Centers of Excellence.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- The University of Mississippi Medical Center has been named a National Telehealth Center of Excellence, the second health system to earn the federal distinction.

Jackson-based UMMC was recognized for its 14-year-old telehealth and telemedicine program by the Health and Human Services Department’s Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) just days after the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) was also named a center of excellence. The awards come with a $600,000 grant to help each health system become a national model and an opportunity to earn $2 million more in funding over the next two years.

“UMMC’s selection as a national Telehealth Center of Excellence is affirmation of our mission and responsibility to bring high-quality healthcare to all Mississippians, especially those in rural, underserved areas,” LouAnn Woodward, UMMC’s vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, said in a press release.

UMMC offers telehealth services in more than 35 specialties, as well as a tele-emergency care platform that connects with emergency departments in 17 rural Mississippi hospitals. Overall, the health system connects with more than 200 healthcare sites across the state, accounting for 500,000 patient visits in 69 of the state’s 82 counties.

Michael Adcock, executive director of UMMC’s Center for Telehealth, said the designation will help the center expand to new areas and programs.

“While our center has been able to show some impressive outcomes, we have not had the staff to focus on researching telehealth delivery models and outcome comparisons,” he said in the press release. “That is vital work that needs to be done, and we are well positioned to do it. This funding and designation will allow us to build on our comprehensive program and develop the research to support further changes in models of delivery.”

Among UMMC’s notable telehealth programs is the Diabetes Telehealth Network, a first-of-its-kind statewide remote patient management program launched in 2014. According to UMMC officials, the first 100 patients enrolled in the program experienced an average 1.7 percent reduction in the A1C levels, did not visit the ER or check into the hospital for a health issue and collectively saved $339,184 in healthcare costs.

The program was expanded throughout the South in 2016, and modified to serve other chronic care populations, including those with COPD, heart failure, hypertension and asthma.

“We are offering this service not only to patients in Mississippi, but outside of the state as well. We want the success of this program to impact as many lives as possible,” Adcock said at the time.

UMMC and MUSC join a network of HRSA-funded telehealth resource centers scattered across the nation. The 12 regional and two national centers are designed to provide guidance and support for telehealth and telemedicine programs, both new and established.

The Telehealth Center of Excellence concept is a new one, included in this year’s budget and authorized by Section 711(b)(5) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 912(b)(5)) and directed by the Joint Explanatory Statement accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017 (Public Law No. 115-31).

“The range and use of telehealth services has expanded over the past several decades,” HRSA officials say in the report laying out the application process for a Telehealth Center of Excellence grant, which was to be awarded to two public academic medical centers. “Traditional telehealth models deliver care to patients at a series of originating (or spoke) sites from a specialist working at a distant (or hub) site. It has proven capabilities to reduce travel time, increase access to specialty care, and improve patient safety, quality of care, and provider support.”

“Telehealth services can be especially beneficial to rural communities, which are often older and sicker than their urban counterparts and have fewer specialists per capita,” the report continues. “Medically underserved areas, particularly those with high rates of chronic disease and poverty, can benefit from using telehealth technology to receive vital health care services close to home.”

UMMC’s designation drew praise from several prominent telehealth advocates, including U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, R-Miss.

“The University of Mississippi Medical Center’s successful program is already a model for national telehealth expansion,” Cochran, a frequent supporter of telehealth legislation, said in a prepared statement. “As a Center of Excellence, UMMC will be able to demonstrate to a broader audience how to use telehealth to increase patient access to care and decrease costs.”

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