Introduction – Witnessing down in the delta

Feb. 21, 2014

Few states have the poor population health history of Mississippi. When it comes to the prevalence of obesity, physical inactivity and smoking, the Magnolia State has the not-so-coveted distinction of being perpetually rated at the bottom of the union. According to the American Diabetes Association, 12.1 percent of adults in the Mississippi Delta, among the most medically underserved regions in the nation, reported being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and 293 died from complications related to the disease. In 2012, diabetic medical expenses in Mississippi totaled $2.74 billion. 

With the aim to loosen diabetes’ foothold on the state, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant announced his office’s partnership with the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC), North Sunflower Medical Center (NSMC), GE Healthcare, Intel-GE Care Innovations and C Spire Wireless to create the Mississippi Diabetes Telehealth Network, a first of its kind nationally. This unique partnership between business, government and academics will offer Mississippi’s diabetic citizens more consistent and timely access to clinicians through the use of telehealth technology in their homes. 

The network will be able to bring the resources and expertise of the state’s only academic medical center, UMMC, to citizens of rural Mississippi, rather than requiring them to travel to the center in Jackson. The program’s base will be in Sunflower County at NSMC, which has an existing telehealth partnership with the UMMC. The program’s private partners will provide the technological infrastructure.

“We will be able to provide interactive video consults, deliver patient education and engage with the patient daily to meet their needs,” said Kristi Henderson, director of telehealth at UMMC. “Until now, this type of coordinated care that engages the patient in their home setting was simply not an option.” 

Governor Bryant said the network resulted from a meeting between state and GE officials more than a year ago at the Paris Air Show in France. The intent behind the meeting was to discuss General Electric’s jet engine and component assembly facilities in Mississippi, however, the talks moved toward the creation of a telehealth network that could, in time, be scaled to incorporate not only diabetic patients, but patients suffering from other chronic illnesses as well. When Mississippi’s healthcare divisions accepted the notion of the program, the state approached C Spire Wireless for network support. Since the project’s announcement by Governor Bryant, several vendors have approached the network with “offers of free supplies such as blood glucose meters, tests strips and lancets,” said Henderson. 

I plan to trace the progress of the Mississippi Diabetes Telehealth Network in our “Online Only Features” section of the HMT website. While this program is designed to improve the health of its participants while reducing the total cost of care, HMT believes it also will provide observers with a treasure trove of lessons. 

Our first update will be published online March 10. I invite you all to post not only your comments but also to begin dialogues with other members of our audience about similar projects that are either being planned or currently in operation. We hope by creating this asynchronous forum that new and unique perspectives can be shared and may even serve as the foundation for future innovative partnerships seeking to overcome the growing number of obstacles we face within healthcare. 

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