The Arizona Telemedicine Program (ATP) at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson has received a $1.31 million federal grant to expand its Southwest Telehealth Resource Center (SWTRC) as part of a nationwide effort to support the implementation of telehealth services and the transition to electronic health records (EHR).
The funds were granted by the Office for the Advancement of Telehealth (www.hrsa.gov/ruralhealth/about/telehealth), part of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
SWTRC received initial funding for its start-up in 2009 and has emerged as a major center of excellence for national and international training in telehealth.
“Timing for the awarding of the Southwest Telehealth Resource Center grant by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is excellent for Arizona,” says Ronald S. Weinstein, MD, founding director of the Arizona Telemedicine Program. “The federal government has made educating physicians about telemedicine, e-Health, m-Health and electronic health records – and encouraging them to embrace the technology – a high national priority.”
“The Southwest Telehealth Resource Center’s mission is highly relevant in today’s changing health-care environment, since providing resources to physicians for implementing telehealth services and electronic health records has been part of the Arizona Telemedicine Program’s mission for years and will help improve the health of people throughout the Southwest region,” says Elizabeth A. Krupinski, PhD, program director for the SWTRC.
“The center is an HHS-sponsored, federally designated entity that has formally expanded our footprint to include four neighboring states. It not only helps define a footprint for the Southwest region with respect to training centers but also increases Arizona’s competitiveness for other regional center grants. Once again, Arizona has a head start with respect to addressing national health-care priorities,” notes Dr. Krupinski.
Covering Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah, the Tucson-based SWTRC is an integral part of a national network of 13 regional resource centers and two national resource centers, the Center for Connected Health Policy in Sacramento, Calif. (http://connectedhealthca.org) and the Telehealth Technology Assessment Resource Center in Anchorage, Alaska (www.telehealthtac.org).
The SWTRC provides many resources, including training; informational webinars; telemedicine equipment recommendations; advice about best practices for telemedicine clinical services; assistance with EHR system selection, implementation and management; and “help desk” technical support for physicians and others in its region. Users include independent health-care organizations and practicing physicians who are, or plan to be, telehealth service providers or users. The SWTRC also will support clinical applications needs assessments; facility design; assistance with legal, regulatory and reimbursement issues; business plan development and grant writing.
ATP has served as a resource center for its 55-member organization for more than 15 years. The SWTRC, a subsidiary of ATP, leverages its resources, expands services and offers them to many more health-care organizations and physicians in the Southwest. ATP is one of only five organizations in the United States with American Telemedicine Association-certified training programs (www.americantelemed.org)
More than 1,000 trainees, including health-care professionals from other states and nations, have participated in ATP’s telemedicine training programs (http://telemedicine.arizona.edu/app/training). The ATP/SWTRC “Help Desk” responded to more than 1,500 requests for services last year alone and many requests were on an urgent basis. ATP technical personnel have high levels of competence and broad experience in medical facility design and EHR product selection, training and management. ATP has received 12 national awards for its innovations.
ATP has had other successes in creating multi-state health-care industry initiatives in the Southwest. In 2004, ATP received U.S. Department of Defense funding for a Four Corners Telehealth Consortium (FCTC) (www.fourcornerstelehealth.org) organizational meeting in Tucson. The Department of Defense had a special interest in jurisdictional issues in interstate health care and Dr. Weinstein identified the Four Corners area as one with special potential to address such issues. The consortium, with Dr. Weinstein as founding director, succeeded in joining the states into a unique regional telehealth “test bed” for multi-state health-care initiatives. FCTC has organized a number of important regional health-care delivery system meetings in the region.
Retired Arizona State Senate President Bob Burns, co-founder of ATP with Dr. Weinstein and chairman of the Arizona Telemedicine Council, an oversight organization for telemedicine in Arizona, has had a special interest in jurisdictional issues in telehealth and has attended a number of FCTC meetings. Federal funding also supported a FCTC meeting on the uses of telehealth for treating veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“Arizona has the edge on many other states when it comes to being competitive for health information technology federal funding,” says Dr. Weinstein. “Developing and sustaining top-notch innovative programs and generating competitive federal grant-fundable programs often go hand-in-hand. Our Arizona legislative leaders regard our successful federal grants as a good return-on-investment for Arizona’s support of telemedicine.”