JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - More than half of Mississippians live 40 minutes or more from specialty care. That's where telehealth can bridge the gap. UMMC Telehealth is one of only two locations in the country to be awarded a Telehealth Center of Excellence designation. Their program will now serve as a model as the Federal Communications Commission hopes to cast a wider net and better serve low-income individuals in rural areas.
The FCC's initiative is called Connected Care. UMMC sparked the idea but they hope to put $100 million into telehealth efforts for low-income folks and veterans in rural areas around the country.
"We came back today because it stuck with us," said FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr. "We wanted to see it first hand and this week we're announcing at the FCC the budgeting of up to $100 million to support those types of projects. They're seeing some great health outcomes and some real reduction in expenses in the medical system."
UMMC has been building out its telehealth network for 15 years now.
"Lives can be saved when you pair technology with broadband," noted Dr. LouAnn Woodward, UMMC Vice Chancellor.
The list of specialties that UMMC is now monitoring remotely keeps growing, but it started with diabetic patients in the Delta.
"It's actually delivering chronic care management in the homes of patients," explained Michael Adcock, UMMC Center for Telehealth Administrator. "That's where we want to be able to deliver that care, in the homes. That's where patients learn best."
Bluetooth enabled devices and a tablet make it simple to walk patients through health checks and save them trips to the local clinic or hospital. The first pilot helped many patients in the Delta get their diabetes under control for the first time in their lives.
FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr visited Mississippi in February. It was then that Sen. Roger Wicker told him about those successes in the Delta.
"Being a state that has small towns and rural community," Wicker said. "But of necessity, it has made us try to be a pioneer in the area of telemedicine."
The FCC is scheduled to vote on the $100 million initiative proposal next month.