Mississippi continues to carve telehealth leadership role

The University of Mississippi Medical Center has unveiled an ambitious telehealth effort that could go a long way in combating some of the most formidable challenges in rural healthcare with the planned construction of a 16,000 square-foot facility dedicated entirely to the technology. In collaboration with Baton Rouge data company Venyu Solutions, the UMMC Center […]

The University of Mississippi Medical Center has unveiled an ambitious telehealth effort that could go a long way in combating some of the most formidable challenges in rural healthcare with the planned construction of a 16,000 square-foot facility dedicated entirely to the technology.

In collaboration with Baton Rouge data company Venyu Solutions, the UMMC Center for Telehealth will accommodate the university’s increase in the area, connecting it to some 165 hospitals, clinics, businesses and other sites across the state. It will also function as a data warehouse for Venyu and may house other businesses in the near future, officials said.  The center will be housed in a former McRae’s department story beginning in July.

While telehealth is booming across the country, both health officials and political leaders in Mississippi have been vocal champions of its ability to address issues of access in rural areas, as well as connecting to hard-to-reach populations that are among the least healthy in the country.

To that end, the state is emerging as a pioneer in telehealth, and its polical leaders, in a nonpartisan manner, have taken an active role in advocating for enhanced reimbursement rates from both Medicare and private insurers to promote its adoption.

Further underscoring the notion, several states with similarly rural landscapes have inquired with Mississippi on its policies and practices, among them: Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Colorado, South Dakota, Illinois, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, Washington and Hawaii.

Mississippi has the lowest rate of physicians per capita in the nation, along with significant health issues like the worst infant mortality rate and is the second-highest in obesity and cancer-related deaths. Taken together, these and other issues like heart diseases have provided a clear impetus for the expanded use of telemedicine. And given the rural nature of the state, many of the hospitals lack the specialists to confront such chronic illnesses, making the telehealth link that much more critical.

On a regulatory model, several states are looking to Mississippi, which requires that all telehealth visits consist of an actual video consultation, not just a phone call, in order to be paid for the service. That goes a long way in ensuring quality outcomes.

Kristi Henderson, chief telehealth and innovation officer for UMMC, the state’s only academic medical center,  has been a go-to voice, as well, and is part of the state’s delegation that has shared its experience with federal health officials on the benefits, particularly in rural areas.

“We have to approach health care differently if we expect a different result,” Henderson said in announcing the new center. “Telehealth allows us to bring health care to people in their community, at their workplace, schools or in their homes,” she added. “This new center will give us the space to meet the demand and serve as a center of excellence for Mississippi’s telehealth.”

Both primary and specialty care, along with employer-sponsored telehealth visits, dispensation of prescription drugs and guident for correctional facilities, will be expanded through UMMC’s forthcoming Center for Telehealth in Jackson, officials said. It will include an operations and call center, administration and support services and remote patient monitoring via mobile devices.

It will also serve as an incubator for other potential innovations and a workforce development training center focusing on healthcare technology.