Addressing COVID-19 Telehealth and TeleMedicine Expansion in Rural Florida

The State of Florida Department of Health Office of Rural Health (FLDOH ORH) commissioned CommHIT to provide practical technical assistance to support and enhance Florida’s rural healthcare delivery system and healthcare workforce—particularly now that COVID has adjusted the healthcare delivery landscape to one that must be even more reliant on telehealth.

For the FLDOH ORH, CommHIT is committed to successfully completing its role in “Addressing COVID-19 Telehealth and Telemedicine Expansion Needs of Rural Communities.”

CommHIT is advising the ORH on the barriers to telemedicine and telehealth for rural providers (and residents) and assist critical access hospitals (CAHs) in the establishment of telehealth and telemedicine practices that would make Florida more resilient to pandemics and disasters.

During the pandemic, Florida’s CAHs and small rural providers had to quickly adapt to a new way of delivering services to their patients through telehealth. While the CARES Act provided some funding to small rural hospitals for telehealth expenses, most small rural hospitals need more support regarding technical expertise and knowledge to effectively implement sustainable telehealth platforms and stay abreast of the state and federal policies and reimbursement rates among Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers. CAHs also need staff that can help them leverage various government and private grant funding opportunities to expand telehealth.

The primary objectives of this project aligns with two federal grants managed by the ORH: 1) the State Office of Rural Health grant (SORH) and 2) Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility Program grant (Flex). Objectives under the SORH grant include: 2.0, Coordinate Rural Health Activities in the State to Avoid Redundancy and 3.0, Provide Technical Assistance to Public and Non-Profit Entities. Objectives under the Flex grant include: 3.1 Support CAHs identifying community and resource needs and 3.2 Assist CAHs to build strategies to prioritize and address unmet needs of the community. CommHIT swerves as the ORH SME on rural telemedicine and telehealth and provides direct technical assistance to Florida’s 10 CAHs as they navigate telehealth and telemedicine during the COVID19 pandemic. 

CommHIT, like the ORH, is committed to improving the rural health infrastructure and care continuum.