Evidence-based Telehealth Network Program: University of Mississippi 

University of Mississippi Medical Center’s (UMMC’s) Center for Telehealth is one of only two federally designated Centers of Excellence in Telehealth in the country and provides telehealth services for the entire state of Mississippi. It has grown its services from emergency telemedicine to now include behavioral health and extended reality.  

The Georgia Health Policy Center recently spoke to Tearsanee Davis, D.N.P., director of clinical and advanced practice operations at UMMC’s Center for Telehealth, about how the Evidence-Based Telehealth Network Program grant will be used to expand telemedicine services for maternal and child health care in eight counties designated as health professional shortage areas. 

To date, what has been the biggest accomplishment or win in your telehealth program?  

I would say that one of our biggest wins was when we received reimbursement approval. We had been providing telehealth services for about 13 years when we received reimbursement. We previously had to be really creative about how we supported the program. We are, of course, here to provide services to those who need it the most — it isn’t about making a profit — but reimbursement really helped us. There are many issues or barriers to people adopting telehealth, particularly in the areas that need it the most. So, this additional funding source helped us to create stronger partnerships with community organizations and rural clinics to be able to test out models or prove the value of our models to those organizations. 

What is a tip or early learning that you would share with an organization launching a similar telehealth program?  

The tip that I would share first is know why you are doing whatever it is that you are doing in the telehealth space. There is an assumption that having a comprehensive telehealth program is the way to go, for everybody. I do think that there is value in that, but I think it’s more important to know what is needed in the area that you are serving. In your particular state or region, what is the most extreme need and how can telehealth really make an impact early on? Do that and then, of course, opportunities will present themselves for you to add on. That is exactly what we did. We started with tele-emergency. But, with the adoption of tele-emergency services statewide, more people started seeing benefits and they began to ask, ‘can you help with this?’ At that point, we didn’t have to worry about adoption, because they actually asked us to develop these programs. So, target the actual need and then I think you will have some early wins. 

How do you see participation in the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy’s Office for the Advancement of Telehealth (OAT) grant program impacting your broader telehealth or health improvement efforts? 

In just the first few months of being a part of this program, I found the support is outstanding. OAT is not just supporting us financially, but they are supporting us. We don’t feel like we are out here by ourselves. This grant is giving us an opportunity to collect the data we need to go back to payers and say, ‘this is what we could do if we were able to be reimbursed.’ We are tasked with caring for the entire state, including those who do not have financial resources. So, we need this data to show our value. 

What will your organization be doing more of or differently to emerge stronger from the pandemic? 

I often joke that March 13, 2020, totally changed my job. Prior to then, my job was going around explaining to people why they should do telehealth and how it would transform their practice. Some listened and those that did were ready when the pandemic hit. But those who did not listen were beating the door down on March 14 saying, ‘we need to get telehealth up and running right now!’ Even the naysayers did not really have a choice. 

So, the pandemic really helped with the adoption of telehealth. But now the challenge is keeping them to continue with telehealth. We probably won over some people simply because they realized it is not as difficult as they thought. The other thing is now there is more of an institutional push for telehealth because organizations see how unprepared they were despite having the resources available to them. UMMC now has a telehealth component in every department. They have the ability to do it, even if they are not really using it. 

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