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HRSA Studying Telehealth Data for Long-Term Integration

The future of health care is incorporating more and more hybrid technologies and environments.

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The pandemic prompted a rapid increase in telehealth services, and now that the health care landscape is reorienting itself to the new status quo, the Human Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) is studying telehealth integration and continuity of care for the long term.

HRSA’s Office for the Advancement of Telehealth (OAT) awards grants to communities for implementing telehealth, funds regional telehealth resource centers that offers technical support, and also conducts its own telehealth research. The office is gathering evidence on when and how telehealth can be advantageous and looking at the future of hybrid health practices.

“We can look across government data to look at pre-pandemic, pandemic — and hopefully at some point soon, post-pandemic data — where we can really get a great picture of telehealth improving patient outcomes and being cost-effective,” OAT Director Heather Dimeris said at ATARC’s Health Summit earlier this week. “And making sure it’s not opening the door to a lot of fraud or making sure that it’s not overwhelming an already burdened, burned-out health care workforce. All of those pieces are incredibly important to us when we look at data to help shape what telehealth — and that integration of telehealth, EHR, AI — how that will look in a post-pandemic environment.”

During the pandemic, HRSA launched, a new website that provides information to both patients and health care providers.

“We were able to use some Cares Act funding to create a website called,” Dimeris said. “We have one place that both patients and providers — and now we’re building it out for researchers — can go to receive sound information on how to get telehealth services if you’re a patient and how to translate research into practice for providers.”

The website includes best practices guides, billing information and updates on HIPAA waiver policies for telehealth purposes. A HRSA research center at the University of Arkansas recently published an article on the website about the terminology for digital health, eHealth, mHealth, telehealth and the various distinctions to help establish a common set of language — a task that also helps inform the Department of Health and Human Service’s data collection.

“I think looking forward, strengthening our plan by using data and collaborating with each other to get some common metrics and terminology is going to be really important, and then following that data and tracking it closely to see what we can do in a post-pandemic health care environment,” Dimeris said. “Definitely looking at improving health equity through increasing access to broadband, satellite or mobile services. Making sure that we’re able to improve health outcomes; making sure we limit fraud, waste and abuse and looking at cost-effectiveness.”

According to Dimeris, much of telehealth advancement boils down to improving technology access.

“The key is making sure everybody does have access to data, to reach high-speed internet — whether through broadband or satellite or through mobile service,” Dimeris said. “That is the key if we want to try to improve access to telehealth services and analyze all these other pieces.”

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