Rural telemedicine efforts get a boost from USDA grants

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced this week that it will disperse more than $4 million in grants across 11 states to boost telemedicine in rural areas. The grants--which will go toward telecommunications equipment--are part of a larger Obama administration initiative that also includes expanding distance learning opportunities over the next five years.

For the overall effort, USDA will pay out a total of $16 million in grants across 25 states. In eight states, combination grants worth more than $2.6 million will go toward improvements for both telemedicine and distance learning efforts.

"Expanding access to broadband will greatly improve educational and economic opportunities for rural residents," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. "We must make needed investments to connect our rural residents to the 21st century technology that will help them compete in a global economy."

Grant recipients, according to USDA, must "demonstrate that they serve rural America [and] prove there is an economic need." They also must provide at least 15 percent in matching funds.

Two notable grant recipients include:

  • The state of Missouri: Three hospitals--Ozarks Medical Center, Harrison County Community Hospital District and Mercy Health--will receive more than $1.1 million. At Harrison County, in particular, the money will go toward purchasing software and equipment for a teleradiology system to connect end-user workstations at three clinics. The money also will help to pay for a new telemedicine unit for Harrison County's outpatient clinic. A combo grant worth more than $175,000 will go to Citizens Memorial Hospital District.
  • Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center: The Lebanon, N.H.-based hospital will receive close to $1 million to buy equipment for a total of 26 sites in New Hampshire and another 15 in Vermont, the Associated Press reported. Six counties in New Hampshire and seven in Vermont will be part of the plan.

A report published in December by Research and Markets predicted the global telemedicine market will have a compound annual growth rate of 18.5 percent through 2018. A shortage of physicians in rural areas and continuous development of telecommunications capabilities will be primary factors in that trend.

To learn more:
- here's the USDA announcement
- here's the breakdown of how the grants will be dispersed (.pdf)
- read the Associated Press brief

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