HHS Deputy Secretary announces $6.5 million in telehealth funding

United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan announced Monday that $6.5 million of funding over three years will be committed to researching and deploying telehealth funding in rural areas. 

This telehealth broadband pilot program will link federal initiatives in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). These initiatives will work to access the broadband capacity of health care providers and patients to participate in telehealth services.

 

 

There is a great variety in the amount of capacity available in communities, said Hargan. This initiative is targeted towards rural areas in four states including Texas, Michigan, West Virginia and Alaska, and will measure bandwidth and the quality of connectivity in those areas.

The community locations that will be measured in Alaska are Aleutians West Borough, Bristol Bay Borough, Dillingham Census Area, Nome Census Area, North Slope Borough and Northwest Arctic Borough. 

These funds are provided by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) through the Office for the Advancement of Telehealth (OAT) to the national Telehealth Technology Assessment Center (TTAC) which is managed by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC).

ANTHC hopes that this funding will help them increase their ability to care for patients remotely when it is medically needed and appropriate. There are hopes that this research and funding will help reduce the amount of extensive travel for health care needs, as often people in rural Alaska have to travel long distances to receive care. 

The COVID-19 pandemic increased the reliance on telehealth as a way to receive care. The ANTHC says they have been able to increase their ability to successfully deliver care since before the start of the pandemic, but challenges still exist.

Although the project will span three years, Hargan hopes that they will have information in one year so that they can start new projects to address the needs they will be identifying.

“In the short term, the consortium can use this data to make better decisions and planning for telehealth to patients, and reduce the labor and time spent testing connectivity,” said ANTHC in a press release. “In the long term, this data will be used to drive policy and infrastructure changes to improve connectivity to rural clinics and homes across Alaska.”