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IRHA Director of Operations Participates in White House Rural Council Meeting for Improving Telehealth Access for Rural America

Posted by: Tina Elliot  | April 13, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. – What healthcare services and professional outreach are available to Americans living and working in rural areas? According to federal reports, about 17% of the U.S. population lives in rural areas and these people are typically less healthy and increasingly have less access to quality healthcare.

The White House Rural Council, created by Executive Order in 2011 to address challenges in Rural America, recently held a convening on rural telehealth. Bringing together over 75 people from across rural America, including medical professionals, agriculture administrators, experts from universities, rural-area telecoms, state policy officials, and others, the Council is looking to streamline and improve the effectiveness of Federal Programs in an effort to improve high-quality rural healthcare delivery through telehealth.

With this meeting, the Council has started an ongoing conversation to engage directly with organizations that are involved in addressing these needs, including the provision of high speed broadband services in enabling telehealth services for medically underserved rural families and communities. Becky Sanders, Director of Operations for the Indiana Rural Health Association (IRHA) and Program Director for the Upper Midwest Telehealth Resource Center, attended her first Council meeting at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House on March 30.

“This is an excellent development, as it gives rural residents of Indiana a strong voice at the federal executive policy level for telehealth advancements,” said Don Kelso, IRHA Executive Director. “Indiana is becoming a leader in rural telehealth adoption, and Becky’s participation at this executive level is important to help move telehealth implementation forward in rural areas and small cities.”

“More people are realizing that telemedicine and telehealth services represent cost-effective alternatives to the more traditional in-person methods of providing medical care,” explained Sanders. “As high-speed secure broadband expands into rural areas of Indiana, we need to take advantage of every opportunity to provide medical services to rural and underserved areas.” These opportunities include leveraging telehealth technology for routine doctor-patient meetings and more critical needs to address mental health and addiction issues, particularly in the short term.

“This Council meeting was well attended by high level administration officials who serve as its members, including the Department of Veteran Affairs, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Health Resources Services Administration. The Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, who serves as the Chair of the Council, spoke very sincerely about his desire to improve broadband services and healthcare delivery methodologies for rural areas of America.” said Sanders. The afternoon meeting was packed with presentations, discussions and breakout sessions. Medical school senior research officials and telemedicine experts from Vanderbilt University, East Carolina University, Avera Health, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs discussed new innovations in telemedicine and telehealth.

“One of the breakout sessions included a discussion about the number of Medicare CPT codes. Out of 10,000 codes, only 75 of those presently allow reimbursement for telehealth applications,” noted Sanders. “This is an area where there could be positive administrative changes that would not require legislation – simple code changes at the agency level could lead to better access to much-needed healthcare.”

The Council involvement is ongoing and fast paced, she added, as the Obama administration officials are aware that their time in service is limited. “If healthcare professionals or administrators want to contribute best practices, thoughts, ideas or data, the Council is asking that we collect these and forward them,” Sanders continued.

Delivering quality healthcare and enhancing patient healthy lifestyles through telehealth resources will be a major topic during the upcoming IRHA annual conference this June. “Becky will be on hand to contribute to and help lead discussions on telehealth,” said Kelso. “She’ll provide the latest information for telehealth policy development including reimbursement issues from her ongoing involvement with the White House Rural Council, so this represents a ‘can’t miss’ conference.”

The Indiana Rural Health Association annual conference will take place in French Lick on June 21 and 22. More information about the conference is available online at www.indianaruralhealth.org (click on the events tab).

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About the Indiana Rural Health Association
The Indiana Rural Health Association was organized in 1997 and is a nonprofit organization working to enhance the health and well-being of rural populations in Indiana through leadership, education, advocacy, collaboration, and resource development. The strength of the organization is through the present diverse membership and the founding organizers who are committed to impacting the health of citizens through the identification of rural health issues and through advocacy roles in both the public and private sectors. IRHA membership is made up of 3,100 diverse individuals and organizations, making it the largest rural health association in the nation, and a nationally recognized leader in rural healthcare. For more information, visit www.indianaruralhealth.org.


Contact: Becky Sanders 812-478-3919, ext. 232 bsanders@indianarha.org

Don Kelso (812) 478-3919 e-mail: dkelso@indianarha.org

Michael Snyder (317) 805-4870 e-mail: msnyder@themekgroup.com

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