The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced $20 million in grants will be made available to communities in support of distance learning and telemedicine programs. The USDA’s Rural Development Distance Learning and Telemedicine grant program will benefit 65 programs across the country.
The USDA’s Rural Development Distance Learning and Telemedicine grant program is investing $20 million in federal support to improve the delivery of healthcare and educational services in rural communities across 34 states. The goal of the program is to connect rural areas to quality, affordable medical and educational services to boost public health and economic growth.
Of the 65 projects awarded grants, 31 are related to healthcare totaling $8.6 million, while the remaining recipients are dedicated to creating distance learning opportunities for rural communities. The telemedicine programs are focused on building out health information exchanges as well as supporting telehealth investments to connect rural healthcare facilities to larger systems and expertise. Major components of telehealth initiatives include:
- Hardware and software upgrades
- Advanced network connectivity
- Fiber backbones
The $20 million in grants announced are part of the USDA Rural Development investments that are made possible through the department’s collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The rural health initiative is providing funding and technical assistance to communities in need of health IT infrastructure installations and upgrades, as well as increased access to educational tools.
According to the USDA, telehealth investments are designed to increase the efficiency of rural medical systems while making it more convenient for residents to access quality, specialized care. In addition, upgrades in healthcare technology and connectivity will:
- Increase job satisfaction for rural healthcare workers, enabling systems to retain talent
- Decrease travel times for patients seeking care
- Reduce morbidity and mortality rates
- Lower healthcare costs related to chronic disease
- Improve care for patients with mobility barriers
- Increase access to specialists and professional collaborations
The grant program is designed to offer one of three types of resources to eligible programs: capital assets, instructional programming and technical assistance.
Other Grant Opportunities
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Health Resources and Services Administration has outlined other telehealth grant programs available to rural communities:
- Evidence-Based Tele-Emergency Network Program
Competitive grant program helping communities expand capabilities in remote emergency departments and determine the efficacy of tele-emergency care for rural patients
- Licensure Portability
Competitive grant program supporting state professional licensing boards in the development of policies to reduce barriers to telemedicine
- Telehealth Network
Competitive grant program funding telehealth networks that provide services to underserved populations
- Telehealth Resource Center
Competitive grant program supporting the development of telehealth resource centers to help healthcare organizations and providers implement cost-effective telehealth programs in underserved and rural communities
In addition, the Health Resources and Services Administration wants to build a library of telehealth best practices that can be applied to new networks launched across the country.