The Federal Communications Commission announced funding for a three-year project on Nov. 19 to the Arkansas Telehealth Network under the Rural Health Care Pilot Program that will consolidate and expand existing public and private non-profit telehealth networks. The funds will allow medical information and education to be delivered across the voice and high-speed data network to nearly 800 locations.
With the improvements, more patients – especially in the medically underserved areas of rural Arkansas – will be seen by medical specialists via telemedicine. More health care providers will have access to the latest health information and education without having to leave their clinics or towns. The consolidated network also will allow a more coordinated response in the event of a major public health incident.
“UAMS and its partners in the Arkansas Telehealth Network are answering the call to a fully-connected, efficiently managed statewide telehealth network,” said Sen. Mark Pryor.
“My interest lie in improving health care of all Arkansans and this initiative will do just that.”
UAMS, Arkansas Department of Health and Baptist Health in concert with DeWitt Hospital and Stuttgart Regional Medical Center both representing the Arkansas Hospital Association will lead the effort, as guided by the Arkansas Telehealth Oversight and Management (ATOM) Membership and Committee, which includes the aforementioned agencies, Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, Arkansas Department of Information Systems, Arkansas Department of Human Services, Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care, Arkansas Hospital Association, Arkansas Research & Education Optical Network, Community Health Centers of Arkansas, DaySpring Behavioral Health, Delta Regional Authority, Mental Health council of Arkansas, St. Vincent Health System, and Training Research in Aging and Children Services (TRACS).
The Arkansas Telehealth Network benefits from the expertise of all its partner organizations, of which Baptist Health is attributed to launching Arkansas’ first electronic intensive care unit, and the Arkansas Department of Health is credited for managing the state’s emergency preparedness telehealth system.
These achievements are further fueled by the remaining membership’s diversity of knowledge in the state’s telehealth systems as they apply to Arkansas’ health care needs.
“This funding brings us one step closer to bridging some of the distance barriers that separate our rural residents from medical subspecialty care they need,” said Curtis Lowery, M.D., chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the UAMS College of Medicine and director of the award-winning Antenatal & Neonatal Guidelines, Education and Learning System (ANGELS) telemedicine program.
“Through technology we have a foundation to tackle the state’s health disparities.”
Presently Arkansas is home to three major statewide telehealth networks: Department of Health, UAMS and Baptist Health, and a number of smaller, private networks. These three telehealth networks represent all areas of the state, serving consumers on a variety of levels including emergency preparedness (earthquake, pandemic flu, chemical spill, etc.), high-risk pregnancy consultation, diabetes self-management, health care education, home health, cardiology, psychiatry, and a number of other diverse medical applications. The networks also serve to educate providers across Arkansas, with health care meetings, continuing education opportunities, and other collaborative uses of teleconferencing.
The award will fund work to make the networks compatible, allowing coordination of telehealth efforts to reach about 270 sites around the state. The Arkansas Telehealth Network anticipates connecting to other statewide educational networks, which presents the potential to increase the combined network to nearly 800 sites. In addition, the award money will allow connection of the networks to Internet2, a data network set up by a consortium of more than 200 universities in partnership with industry and government.
The UAMS Rural Hospital Program led the state’s efforts in telehealth when it launched two sites in 1995. The network has grown to include 50 rural hospital, Area Health Education Center (AHEC), and clinic sites across the state. In 2006, the program held 272 different continuing education programs over telemedicine, serving 5,820 attending health care professionals.
The UAMS ANGELS program is a Medicaid-funded, telehealth consultation and education service established in 2003 for a wide range of physicians in Arkansas. Utilizing interactive video and utrasonography, telemedicine conferences enable physicians to confer with specialists regarding high-risk pregnant patients. In 2006, ANGELS performed 891 consultations through ANGELS telemedicine.