A telehealth grant totaling $75,000 from the Maryland Health Care Commission (MHCC) has been awarded to University of Maryland Shore Regional Health (UM SRH). The grant supports projects designed to expand access to needed services and specialists in palliative care and psychiatry for patients and their families in Kent and Queen Anne’s counties. It is a collaboration between UM SRH, University of Maryland Medical System eHealth, and the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM) Department of Epidemiology and Public Health.
Telehealth utilizes telecommunications and related technologies such as video-conferencing, image capturing and use of remote examination tools to support health care services, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration. The expanded telehealth capability aims to reduce hospital emergency department visits, inpatient admissions and readmissions; to enable the early provision of appropriate treatment; to improve access to care; and to provide cost savings to patients and providers.
“We are grateful to the MHCC for supporting this initiative that will significantly enhance patient care in medically underserved communities in rural Maryland,” said Robert A. Chrencik, MBA, CPA, president and CEO, University of Maryland Medical System. “This grant will allow us to use the latest in technology to expand the reach of our clinical services and increase access for patients.”
MHCC’s telehealth grant project was launched this month and continues through July 2018. Funds awarded through the grant will assist UM SRH in the purchase of varied telehealth technologies, training for UM SRH clinicians and other users on the use of telehealth equipment, and support for UM SOM research professionals involved in the project.
“The MHCC grant enables UM Shore Regional Health to apply state-of-the-art telehealth technology to close difficult gaps in rural healthcare,” says William Huffner, MD, chief medical officer and senior vice president, Medical Affairs for UM SRH.
One significant gap in rural health care is caused by the nationwide shortage of skilled health care providers in key medical specialties. Palliative care and psychiatry are two arenas in which the scarcity of providers is a serious issue, especially in rural areas.
“We are very fortunate to have highly qualified physicians in both palliative care and psychiatry serving our patients through University of Maryland Community Medical Group,” Dr. Huffner notes. “However, the size of our region – five counties covering more than 1,700 square miles – makes it impossible to offer ongoing, on-site care at all locations at all times. The MHCC grant funding supports the expansion of our telehealth capabilities at UM Shore Medical Center at Chestertown and the installation of telehealth technology at UM Shore Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, and will enable us to improve access to care for residents of Kent and Queen Anne’s counties.”
The grant funds, for which University of Maryland Shore Regional Health has agreed to provide a 2:1 financial match, also will support research on the most effective use of telehealth technology.
As Dr. Huffner explains, “Experience tells us that with any new technology, it is important to study how it is used in a way that will enable us to develop best practices. This grant will help us ensure that we make the best use of telehealth by addressing a number of questions, such as: What factors about a patient’s condition make the use of telehealth ideal or less than ideal? What are the boundaries of telehealth, in terms of patient tolerance and satisfaction? With regard to palliative care, one challenge we have sought to address is how to include not only patients but also key family members in palliative care discussions so that everyone understands the care options. Telehealth may prove very successful in achieving that goal by enabling the patient, the provider and family members, including those at varied remote locations, to participate in a three-way telehealth discussion.”
“Palliative care is a critical component of the care that we give to patients. The telehealth program is an innovative attempt to extend that care to more patients and families, over a wider area,” says University of Maryland School of Medicine Dean E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, who is also the vice president for Medical Affairs, University of Maryland, and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor. “We are fortunate to have this opportunity to further collaborate with our partners across the state to help improve the lives of underserved patients and their families.”