Distance Caring: How the Biden Administration to Improving Telehealth Access for Rural Areas

Telehealth is vital for providing fast and convenient care for patients with special needs or mobility issues. It provides quick access to healthcare and enhances health quality by providing reliable clinical treatment and assessment for the most vulnerable populations. Despite being widespread, telehealth has been slow to roll out in rural parts of the US. Image: 

Research compiled from 245 health centers across the country published in MMWR (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report) found that those in the rural and southern areas repeatedly experienced the minimum average rating of weekly telehealth visits, as compared to other regions.

In August 2021, the Biden administration  unveiled critical investments that would boost telehealth in underserved, frontier, and rural communities. The investments totaled about $19 million and will go to thirty-six award recipients.

The funding will aid in training specialists at learning medical centers and support primary care providers. The trained experts will further help treat patients with severe conditions ranging from substance disorders to mental health in their communities.

The investment will also assist healthcare providers and rural hospitals in implementing nutrition assistance programs, telehealth and increasing staffing. It is estimated that 208 rural healthcare groups will expand the crucial services to about 5 million persons in forty-three states and Guam.

According to HHS (Health and Human Services), the new funds will be distributed via the organizations listed below:

  • National Telehealth Resource Centers: $4.55 million will be channeled to two national and twelve regional Telehealth Resource Centers, which provide education, guidance, and information on the subject. In addition, each regional TRC would provide various services catered to the requirements of the surrounding community. The centers to receive the funds are the California-based Public Health Institute and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, the two national centers. Other regional recipients include the Indiana Rural Health Association, the California Telehealth Network, the University of Utah, and the University of Arizona.
  • Telehealth Centers of Excellence: $6.5 million will be awarded to two other organizations to help evaluate telehealth services and strategies. This is key in improving healthcare in rural and medically underserved areas with high poverty rates and a high prevalence of chronic infections.
  • Evidence-Based Direct-to-Consumer Telehealth Network Program: The program will distribute $3.85 million to 11 organizations to assess telehealth’s effectiveness to payers, providers, and patients. The groups will also increase access to telehealth services.
  • Telehealth Technology-Enabled Learning Program: This will help distribute $4.5 million to boost learning medical centers and provide support and training to primary care providers in rural and underserved areas. Through the training, communities can learn crucial topics such as the effects of drugs such as marijuana on treatment, the importance of telehealth, current trends in telemedicine, and much more. The recipients include the American Academy of Pediatrics, the University of New Mexico, and Oregon Health and Science University.

In a statement on the funding, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra mentioned telehealth is “crucial” to offering sustainable and convenient healthcare, particularly in rural areas.

The University of Mississippi Medical Center intends to launch a program, essentially a dual video system, that links critically ill patients in rural medical center intensive care units with teams of nurses and doctors who specialize in remote patient care.

Other plans for funding include:

  • Expanding access to pulmonary rehabilitation services
  • Lowering prescription and healthcare drug costs
  • Enhance the safety of drinking water in rural areas
  • Veteran Affairs training programs for professionals in the rural areas

Before the pandemic, patients in remote areas still experienced significant gaps in healthcare outcomes and access. For example, more than 130 rural hospitals have closed in the last ten years, and more than 450 are at risk, based on a February 2022 report by the Chartis Group.

Furthermore, the American Hospital Association reports that less than 10% of physicians in the country practice there, even though 20% of Americans reside in rural areas.

In the same year, the Biden administration disbursed billions of dollars to the communities in rural areas via the American Rescue Plan. The amount was separate from the $19 million to address various health concerns.

Why It Matters

The funding will help in growing telehealth innovation. This includes funds for publishing and tracking telehealth research and funds for incubators to assist in piloting new telehealth services.

The funding will also help in building trusted resources and educational opportunities. Additionally, it will enhance clinical networks to advance telehealth further.

Emergency Rural Health Care Grants

Congress established the American Rescue Plan Act in March 2021. It was in response to the pandemic and the need to provide for those affected with immediate economic help. The USDA acted fast and made these funds available a few months after the Act’s passing to guarantee the long-term accessibility of rural healthcare services.

The Biden-Harris Administration provides millions of Americans living in rural areas with grants and loans. It has magically helped increase economic possibilities, create jobs, and enhance the quality of life in rural America.

The USDA has a beneficial impact on every American’s life every day. It is evident with its emphasis on dependable regional and local food production, fairer markets for all manufacturers, and ensuring access to healthy, nutritious, and safe food in all communities.

Under the current Biden-Harris Administration, the USDA is reshaping America’s food system.

Looking Ahead

Telehealth is a modern approach to providing all populations access to high-quality healthcare. Significantly, this investment is a crucial first step, and CQC (Consumer for Quality Care ) research urges decision-makers to develop fresh ideas for advancing this essential technology.

Telehealth companies are also pushing for a permanent expansion of telehealth post the Covid pandemic.

Although telehealth has become more popular during the pandemic, there are still more challenges. For example, it is still inaccessible in regions without the internet or adequate speeds. And there is still a lot of skepticism about how increasing the use of telemedicine will affect medical insurance and hospitals’ bottom lines over time, let alone patient outcomes.

A substantial body of research encourages telehealth for counseling, communication, and monitoring patients with chronic conditions, but more proof of its broader application is required.

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