UAB awarded $1 million for COVID-19 telehealth efforts

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed telehealth to the forefront, and UAB will use FCC funding to improve access to this essential health care service.

Dr. Eric Wallace, MD (Medical Director, UAB Telemedicine; Associate Professor, Nephrology) is visible on a UABemedicine screen, 2019.The University of Alabama at Birmingham has received $1 million from the Federal Communications Commission to facilitate the massive telehealth transition that occurred during the onset of the COVID-19 public health emergency.  

The award will fund the purchase of iPads, webcams and remote patient monitoring devices to facilitate the huge increase in telehealth that UAB has experienced. UAB will also add additional telehealth carts in the emergency department and maternal emergency unit to improve the ability to screen patients and reduce health care provider exposure. 

“This will benefit Alabama by expanding telehealth infrastructure in Alabama, which can help increase access to care, the major health care issue facing the state,” said Eric Wallace, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Medicine, School of Medicine and medical director of UAB eMedicine. “It will allow us to expand remote patient monitoring and reach patients with whom we could not previously connect.” 

Wallace says the FCC award will also fund telehealth carts in intensive care units and palliative care units to help patients connect with their loved ones during a time when visitation must be limited due to the pandemic.  

“Expansion of telehealth allows for the delivery of quality care in a patient’s home, but it also provides for social distancing in those cases where a patient needs to see their health care provider in person or for those with a loved one in the hospital,” said Bart Kelly, executive director of Telehealth Services at UAB Medicine. “It keeps patients, visitors and staff safe while not compromising on care.”  

UAB eMedicine already utilizes telehealth carts to expand telehealth services to other hospitals to ensure access to subspecialty care such as infectious diseases, critical care, stroke and nephrology. The award will also fund expanded remote patient monitoring of patients with COVID-19, particularly for those at high risk of morbidity and mortality due to secondary conditions such as diabetes, heart failure, kidney disease and hypertension. 

“UAB is committed to the continued expansion of telehealth,” Wallace said. “However, just expansion of infrastructure internally won’t be enough.  We as a state will have to make sure that everyone has access to adequate internet, not only for health care, but also for education and commerce.”  

Telemedicine4Wallace and Curt Carver Jr., Ph.D., vice president of Information Technology/chief information officer at UAB, were recently named by Gov. Kay Ivey to serve on the Broadband Working Group to provide input and guidance on how to allocate funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. 

“We have a real chance at addressing these issues, and we must address them if Alabamians are to thrive in the new environment, which requires broadband for virtually all aspects of life,” Wallace said.

The UAB award of $1 million, the maximum award given during this funding period, is one of 70 new awards by the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau, totaling more than $31 million. To date, the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program, which was authorized by the CARES Act, has approved 514 funding applications in 46 states plus Washington, D.C., for a total of $189.27 million in funding.

The UAB team, which prepared their successful application in a week, included Joan Hicks, chief information officer for the UAB Health System, Franklin Tessler, M.D., senior medical officer, Health System Information Services, and Abigayle Kraus, UAB medical student.

To learn more about the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program and view a complete list of funding recipients to date, visit