According to a Jan. 30 news release, UVA Health and a coalition of Southwest Virginia healthcare groups announced a partnership that aims to improve health problems related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The partnership is backed by a $5.1 million federal grant that will increase the region’s access to care.
The release states that “The Virginia Consortium to Advance Healthcare in Appalachia will bring together the UVA Center for Telehealth, the Healthy Appalachia Institute at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, the Southwest Virginia Health Authority, the Health Wagon, Tri-Area Health and Ballad Health to help more residents get care using innovative telehealth models.”
The main goal of the partnership is to improve outcomes for patients with COVID-19 and chronic health conditions worsened by the pandemic and also to establish a long-term plan for providing care in rural communities.
The release says that “The consortium will serve the city of Norton and 10 counties—Buchanan, Carroll, Dickenson, Grayson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell and Wise—that have severe shortages of physicians for both primary and specialty care and significantly worse health outcomes than elsewhere in Virginia.”
That said, “Compared with the rest of Virginia, adults ages 35 to 64 in these localities are:
- 30 percent more likely to die earlier
- 21 percent more likely to die from heart disease
- 14 percent more likely to die from diabetes
- 35 percent more likely to die from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- 10 percent more likely to die from stroke”
The consortium with expand access with technology, including:
- Interactive home monitoring: This program, an expansion of a telehealth initiative, provides patients with tablets and medical equipment such as blood pressure cuffs, thermometers, and scales to monitor cardiovascular disease risk factors.
- Virtual urgent care: This problem allows patients that are sick with non-emergency conditions to be seen virtually from home.
- Safer isolation care in hospitals and outpatient clinics: The grant supports the expansion of UVA Health’s Isolation Communication Management System to help patients with COVID-19 and other communicable diseases. The audiovisual system allows communication with patients in isolation, limiting the number of healthcare providers needed to enter an isolation room.
- Post COVID-19 care: UVA Health is expanding its post-COVID care clinic to Southwest Virginia using telehealth technology to assist those with long-term symptoms to recover.
- Virtual mental healthcare and chronic disease management: Two state-funded programs are going to be expanded. The Virginia Telemental Health Initiative offers virtual mental health services and InnoVAte supports chronic disease management and prevention.
- Healthcare provider education and virtual consults: UVA Health’s Project ECHO will provide training to healthcare providers on COVID and post-COVID care, interactive home monitoring, and caring for patients in isolation.
Karen S. Rheuban, MD, director of the UVA Center for Telehealth was quoted in the release saying that “We look forward to working with our colleagues at the Healthy Appalachia Institute at UVA Wise, the Southwest Virginia Health Authority and with partner healthcare systems and providers across the region to develop a contemporary strategic plan, a ‘Blueprint for Health and Health Related Prosperity.’ Funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will also enable us to begin to implement the blueprint, to expand access to care through telehealth tools and provide training for a broad range of healthcare professionals.”