Developing a Telehealth Blueprint for Action

Telehealth holds the promise of meeting patients' needs for a number of concerns, especially for people living in remote areas. (Photo by Daniel Sone, National Cancer Institute via unsplash.com)

ALBANY, N.Y. (July 7, 2020) – As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, health organizations are putting renewed focus on technologies that hold promise for addressing the needs of patients. For individuals living in remote areas, telehealth may prove to be a key tool in fighting the spread of this coronavirus.

On June 25, the University at Albany’s Center for Technology in Government (CTG UAlbany) teamed with Adirondack Health Institute (AHI) to design and host an online workshop aimed at developing a “telehealth blueprint for action.” The CTG UAlbany team was led by CTG Director Theresa Pardo and Program Director Meghan Cook.

Focusing on medical providers in New York’s North Country, CTG UAlbany and AHI brought together policy specialists, medical providers and county officials to develop a framework for expanding telehealth capabilities throughout the region.

As defined by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, telehealth is “a two-way, real- time interactive communication between a patient and a physician or practitioner at a distant site through telecommunications equipment that includes, at a minimum, audio and visual equipment.” The goals of telehealth are to provide an alternative when traditional in-person medical care isn’t feasible, and to utilize remote telecommunications technology to improve a patient’s health.

As of 2019, only about eight percent of patients utilized some form of telemedicine during the course of their care. Given the focus on social distancing during the pandemic, there is little doubt that telehealth adaptation could grow exponentially in the near future. But before this growth is realized, AHI and CTG UAlbany set to work identifying the barriers to greater implementation.

Among their findings, broadband availability, access to equipment, patient engagement, and understanding how to use telehealth were highlighted as chief concerns by respondents. With these barriers in mind, AHI and CTG UAlbany approached the workshop with the understanding that focus areas should include leveraging resources toward developing collaborative strategies and investments in telehealth relevant to their service offerings.

AHI’s goal is to leverage and expand telehealth opportunities in the North Country to improve access to quality health care and transform care delivery, ensuring every individual in our region reaches their full potential and lives a healthy life. The Telehealth Blueprint for Action will drive informed decision and choice making around strategies for increasing access to health care through the innovative use of telehealth in rural regions.

Adirondack Health Institute received a grant from the Charles R. Wood Foundation in May 2019 to develop a Telehealth Technical Assistance Center. AHI is using the funding to build telehealth capacity over a 12-month period in nine North Country counties (St. Lawrence, Franklin, Clinton, Hamilton, Essex, Fulton, Warren, Saratoga and Washington) to improve care, support patients post-discharge, and serve the needs of community members.

Adirondack Health Institute is an independent, non-profit organization supporting hospitals, physician practices, behavioral health providers, community-based organizations, patients and others in our region to transform health care and improve population health.

In 2019, AHI began working with CTG UAlbany on strategic planning to support treatment for and the prevention of opioid and substance use disorders in the Adirondack Region’s highest-risk rural counties. With CTG UAlbany’s help, AHI and partners the region identified needs and actions designed to improve opioid and substance use disorder prevention, treatment, recovery and harm-prevention services.

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