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IU Health Tipton expanding telemedicine services for mental health, addiction

Published Tuesday, December 31, 2019

TIPTON – A grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will allow IU Health Tipton to expand its telehealth technology to enhance its addiction and mental health services.

IU Health received a $240,800 grant to purchase and install portable telemedicine examination equipment to improve services at seven rural critical access hospitals, including the one in Tipton.

Telehealth services allow patients to talk to doctors or providers via a computer of telephone instead of driving to clinic, and also allows physicians at different facilities to conduct videoconferencing during surgeries of other procedures.

 

The equipment purchased by IU Health will also be used in the critical access hospitals in Clinton, White, Orange, Lawrence, Blackford and Jay counties. The project will serve 51,465 residents from a hub in Indianapolis.

Mike Harlowe, president of IU Health Tipton Hospital, said they currently use telehealth technology for emergent psychiatric assessments and select inpatient consultations during hospital stays. The hospital also uses telemedicine to offer peer-recovery counseling and support programs for patients struggling with addiction.

Harlowe said the grant will help the hospital enhance and build upon the existing telehealth options to continue providing the best care for patients. He said it will also allow providers more options when specialized care is required.

“Telehealth technology increases the efficiency and access to specialty care to help meet patients where they are,” Harlowe said in a release. “Telehealth technology is an adjunct to the personalized care patients have come to expect at IU Health Tipton Hospital.”

He said the hospital’s telehealth services are not intended to replace the personal care provided by team members to patients.

The local grant is part of a national federal grant which in total is investing $42.5 million in 133 distance learning and telemedicine projects in 37 states and two U.S. territories These investments will benefit 5.4 million rural residents, according to the USDA.

USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Donald LaVoy said initiative aims to “make it easier for thousands of rural residents to take advantage of economic, health care and educational opportunities without having to travel long distances.”

 

“USDA is committed to partnering with rural communities to help them improve their quality of life, because when rural America thrives, all of America thrives,” he said in a release.

Telemedicine services are growing rapidly across Indiana since the state passed its first major piece of legislation in 2015, regulating the new technology and requiring private payers and Medicaid to cover telehealth services.

Today, more hospitals and providers are offering consultations and services through virtual visits than ever before, and more rural Hoosiers are tapping into the convenience of talking to a physician through a computer or cellphone rather than potentially driving an hour to the nearest clinic.

But Allison Orwig, project coordinator for the Indiana Telehealth Network, a program administered through the Indiana Rural Health Association, said while telemedicine is growing, roadblocks still exist in getting it out to the rural parts of the state, where access to doctors and medical specialists is severely limited.

“Telemedicine is expanding massively, but when you talk about getting it all the way out to people’s homes, that’s the last piece of it,” she said. “It’s expanding to clinics and schools and jails pretty darn quick. But that last-mile connection into people’s physical homes is still a ways off.”

She said the biggest reasons for that boil down to a lack of adequate internet in rural areas and federal rules which don’t allow hospitals to bill insurance companies for telemedicine services patients use at home.