– The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Institute for Digital Health & Innovation recently received a four-year $3.8 million grant to examine the effectiveness of digital health in delivering healthcare in rural areas and hospitals, according to a recent press release.
The grant from the federal Health Resources & Services Administration will help to establish a resource center to investigate how digital health practices affect patient outcomes and rural hospital profitability.
This information will help to inform about how best to use digital health in patient care, healthcare stakeholders in Arkansas believe.
“COVID-19 has limited many of our normal activities, such as visiting a doctor,” said Governor Asa Hutchinson. “The internet and access to it has enabled many Arkansans to make virtual visits to a physician. This grant will help us to identify the best ways to deliver health care virtually and affordably across the state.”
Cam Patterson, MD, MBA, chancellor of UAMS also said that digital health has been his main focus since June of 2018. The Institute for Digital Health and Innovation was established in early 2019.
“UAMS has been a national leader in digital health,” said Patterson.
“The scope of this grant, which will fund research looking at data about digital health in other states also, is a recognition of what we have achieved so far. This digital health-focused research center is a natural fit with our Institute for Digital Health & Innovation. It will help us to continue that national leadership and demonstrate that we’ve earned it.”
The center will work in collaboration with the university’s College of Medicine, College of Pharmacy, and College of Public Health to research different areas.
In the first year, the project team will assess how federal reimbursement policy for digital health and remote patient monitoring affects hospital readmissions, length of stay, and total annual healthcare costs.
The team will also review how digital health services are used, what their outcomes are, and how spending it differs by comparing two groups.
The first group will be high-risk pregnant women who receive prenatal care digitally and the second group will be high-risk pregnant women who don’t, authors said.
The team will also analyze the budget impact of a digital healthcare program in addressing behavioral health needs in rural areas, as well as the affordability of implementing it at other academic medical centers nationwide.
UAMS noted that the team will also evaluate different models of stroke care using health IT and the impact technology has on clinical outcomes and quality of care.
Additionally, they will study whether rural hospitals using digital health are more profitable than those who don’t.
“What we discover about the effectiveness of digital health in addressing these issues will help legislators and other policymakers focus funding where it can be of the most use in helping rural hospitals and their patients,” said Hari Eswaran, PhD, the Institute’s director of research.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital healthcare and although consumers are interested in virtual services, concerns over privacy, security, and trust still remain, according to the 2020 Accenture Digital Health Consumer Research report.
During COVID-19, virtual healthcare services became vital to slowing the transmission of the novel coronavirus by limiting face-to-face interactions between doctors and patients.
At the start of the pandemic, 54 percent were open to receiving virtual healthcare from traditional medical care providers. And by April, a majority of providers had transitioned to virtual care.
Sixty-two percent of consumers reported that they would “definitely” receive health and wellness advisories or remote monitoring of ongoing health issues.
“Barriers to adoption could still impede progress. Even as consumers gain confidence in digital tools and services post-pandemic, there is still work to be done to meet expectations for superior digital services,” researchers stated.