Wicker Examines Ways to Expand Telehealth Nationwide

Miss. Senator Focuses on Need to Provide Access to Rural America

April 21, 2015

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, today held a hearing to examine ways to advance telehealth technologies nationwide, particularly in rural areas.

The hearing, titled “Advancing Telehealth Through Connectivity,” also explored the challenges facing many health-care providers and patients attempting to take advantage of innovative telehealth applications. Dr. Kristi Henderson, Chief Telehealth and Innovation Officer at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC), testified at today’s hearing.

“Advancing telehealth through connectivity is a timely topic for the Committee this year, as we look at ways to modernize our communications laws,” Wicker said. “I hope today’s discussion will serve as an educational forum on the progress we’ve made, as well as an opportunity to identify ways we can ensure all Americans have access to these great advancements in patient care and delivery.”

Mississippi has made important progress in telehealth in recent years. For example, UMMC deploys portable medical carts to rural hospitals and clinics, allowing patients and doctors in remote locations to interact in real time with medical center specialists through video and the transmission of diagnostic information.

The Diabetes Telehealth Network pilot in Sunflower County – the first of its kind nationally – is intended to forge a stronger connection between clinicians and people with diabetes. It supports earlier clinical intervention, more effective use of health services, and positive health habits and behavior changes.

“There is still work to be done,” Wicker continued. “Fifty-four percent of people in Mississippi live in rural areas, and we have the lowest ratio of physicians to patients. Nationwide, more than fifty-three percent of Americans living in rural areas lack access to what the FCC now classifies as broadband service. Only eight percent of Americans living in urban areas lack this technology.”

Wicker also announced his intention to reintroduce the “Telehealth Enhancement Act” this year with Senator Thad Cochran, R-Miss. The bill would help improve Medicare reimbursements and work toward payment parity.

Earlier this month, Wicker visited the operation centers at UMMC’s departments of TelEmergency, an emergency medicine-focused telehealth network operated by the Center for Telehealth connecting 15 rural Mississippi hospitals to UMMC’s adult and pediatric Emergency Departments. He also toured MED-COM, the medical communications center for the coordination of first responders and hospitals across the state.