UAB to host Alabama Telehealth Summit as momentum in state builds to broaden availability

The summit will provide an opportunity to learn from people who are experts in their field, some of whom have achieved an enormous amount of success in their own states.

Many Alabamians desperately need access to physicians of all specialties in rural areas of the state. In Alabama’s Black Belt, some residents have to drive two hours or more just for routine care, and death rates from cardiovascular and oncologic diseases and diabetes are significantly higher there than for urban Alabamians. Specialized and super-specialized care in or near these rural areas is almost unheard-of.

But momentum is building to broaden access to care for Alabama residents, no matter where they live, thanks to the use of a technology known as telehealth — a two-way, real-time interactive communication either between the patient and physician or between physicians. Motivated health care providers, physicians, specialists, nurses, and hospital and health care office administrators from around the state will gather at the University of Alabama at Birmingham on Tuesday, Aug. 9, for the fifth annual Alabama Telehealth Summit.

Local and state officials, policymakers, information technology experts and telehealth industry leaders from around the country will attend the daylong event on UAB’s campus in the Hill Student Center, which is coordinated by the Alabama Partnership for Telehealth and Southeastern Telehealth Resource Center, and will be co-hosted by UAB Medicine for the first time. Both registration for the event and the conference agenda are available online. Those interested can follow the conference live on Twitter at #telehealth.

“There is a real opportunity to help the people of Alabama through the use of telehealth, and we are right here on the front steps, ready to open the door,” said Bart Kelly, UAB’s newly named executive director of Telehealth and current service line director for Neurosciences. “UAB is making a concerted effort to grow our telehealth infrastructure and come together in a coordinated effort around telehealth to better serve the needs of our patients and the residents of our state.”

UAB growing telehealth initiatives and endeavors

Read more on recent UAB telehealth advances:

UAB joins stroke telemedicine initiatives — Many small community hospitals don’t have the necessary resources on hand every hour of every day to treat a stroke.

UAB study uses smartphone technology to promote pulmonary rehab at home — Patients were given a smartphone with certain applications that allowed exercise physiologists to use the phone’s camera to observe them as they exercised.

• In U.S. first, UAB physician uses telehealth to replace comprehensive face-to-face visit for home dialysis patient — Pilot study partnership between the UAB School of Medicine and the Alabama Department of Public Health showcased the impact telehealth could have in Alabama with the right nurturing.

“We are excited to be partnering with UAB this year as we host our fifth annual Alabama Telehealth Summit,” said Lloyd Sirmons, director of the Southeastern Telehealth Resource Center. “There is no doubt these summits have helped advance telehealth in the state of Alabama and put us on track to where we are today. This year’s panel of speakers features people who have been in the trenches developing and implementing telehealth programs in Alabama and beyond, and includes some of the industry’s top thinkers in this arena. We look forward to learning and continuing to build momentum with a great summit.”

Other entities have banded together in recent months in a variety of ways with UAB Medicine on telehealth initiatives, including the School of Medicine, the School of Nursing, Children’s of Alabama, the University of South Alabama and the Alabama Department of Public Health.

“We really wanted to get all of the major drivers of telehealth in the state of Alabama here at UAB,” said UAB nephrologist Eric Wallace, M.D., who recently performed what is believed to be a U.S. first, using telehealth to replace comprehensive face-to-face visits for a home dialysis patient — a feat that led Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama to begin covering such visits starting July 1, 2016. “The summit will provide an opportunity to learn from people who are experts in their field and have already been successful with designing successful telemedicine programs. It’s a great opportunity for us to learn from others the best paths to take to grow telehealth in our state so we can better serve our residents.”

Navigating the path to properly nurture and grow telehealth opportunities is not to be taken lightly, Kelly says.

While growth at UAB and in other areas of the state in the field has been ramping up in recent years, developing a pathway to success is key to expanding telehealth the best way.

“We’ve learned from other states that telehealth can become a very fragmented system without thoughtful organization and collaboration, which makes it difficult for everyone, especially the patient,” Kelly said. “Where states have been successful with telehealth is where it has been a more coordinated effort throughout the state. We will move as quickly as we can, but at an appropriate pace to foster the collaboration and develop a sustainable system. For telehealth to be successful, we must strategically create the right infrastructure and plan for the rollout where care is delivered.”

In the past year, the Alabama Department of Public Health has provided a backbone for numerous telemedicine programs by establishing telehealth clinics at 14 county health departments with plans to have 25 sites by the end of the year. Health care providers who use the ADPH telehealth sites include the UAB School of Medicine, Medical AIDS Outreach of Alabama, Alabama Coalition Against Rape, AIDS Alabama and the Veterans Administration.

Limited reimbursement opportunities currently establish what is and is not possible in Alabama telehealth. However, Blue Cross and Blue Shield began a pilot program in December 2015 to reimburse telemedicine visits for subspecialties, including cardiologic conditions, dermatologic conditions, infectious disease, behavioral health, neurologic conditions including stroke, and nephrology.

“As a state, we are on the right track with this,” Kelly said. “While reimbursement is important, and the technology behind telehealth is great, it’s the providers who are the key to its success. They’re the ones delivering the care. We’re working diligently to make telehealth services available to them.”

  • August 9