The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development has awarded 31 grants totaling $8.6 million for rural telemedicine efforts across 34 states.
The grants were part of the $20 million awarded by the USDA Rural Development Distance Learning and Telemedicine program, announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Nov. 20. According to Vilsack, these telehealth investments mean that “people who live and work in rural areas will not have to travel long distances for specialized healthcare services.”
The grants are the latest in a series of USDA Rural Development investments in rural health and health IT infrastructure needs following a Memorandum of Understanding that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and USDA signed in 2011 to help link rural doctors and clinics to USDA Rural Development grants and loans.
For example, the University of Iowa’s eHealth Extension Network received a grant for almost $500,000. This grant will provide more than 70 rural healthcare facilities in 46 counties in Iowa with telehealth carts equipped with high-quality cameras, as well as video conferencing and cloud-based image sharing software.
Beginning with Iowa in June 2013, HHS and USDA jointly launched a pilot initiative that generated more than $38 million in financing to critical access hospitals and small, rural hospitals across four states by September 2013. As of October 2014, the initiative expanded to reach doctors, clinics, and hospitals caring for rural and poor communities across 13 states: Iowa, Kansas, Illinois, Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Tennessee, Missouri, Montana, Wyoming and Kentucky, according to a blog post from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC).