According to the National Library of Medicine, one of the earliest uses of hospital-based telehealth began in the late ‘50s, when the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute and Norfolk State Hospital began sharing a closed-circuit television link for psychiatric consultations.
Since then, telehealth services have become an indispensable tool for health centers to serve their patients, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to adopt the $200 million COVID-19 Telehealth Program to aid healthcare providers in purchasing telecommunications, broadband connectivity and devices necessary for providing telehealth services.
This was a necessary move to support the massive increase in telehealth usage during the pandemic. A recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) showed a massive jump in Medicare telehealth utilization during the pandemic. Researchers concluded that the share of Medicare visits conducted through telehealth rose from about 840,000 in 2019 to 52.7 million in 2020.
However, launching telehealth programs was a challenge for many health systems long before the pandemic. In 1996, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released “Telemedicine: A Guide to Assessing Telecommunications for Health Care.” In this groundbreaking report, the IOM said there are “seven deadly barriers” for telemedicine:
These barriers to entry are still relevant almost 30 years later, especially for health systems and patients in rural areas and underserved communities. In a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers found that the substantial increase in telemedicine usage during the COVID-19 pandemic “disproportionately benefited higher-income, metropolitan-dwelling adults.”
To correct these disparities and make telehealth available to as many patients as possible, there is a wide variety of telehealth grant programs and funding that can help health systems of all types secure the financial resources they need to launch comprehensive telehealth services. But, searching and applying for the right telehealth grants for your organization can be arduous and frustrating. Hopefully, this guide will help you navigate through the process successfully.
The Benefits of Telehealth Programs
Telehealth grants cover certain initiatives or designate the money in specific ways. So, before you can even think about grant applications, your telehealth program needs to be in a good place so you know which grants are relevant to you.
If your organization is having difficulties getting the telehealth program up and running, it will motivate you to remember how beneficial the program can be for your patients and your organization. Here are just a few of many:
For Patients: From controlling the spread of illness to enhancing communication to improving the quality of life for older adults and their caregivers, telehealth offers many benefits to patients. This is reflected in a bevy of patient satisfaction surveys, including one where 83 percent of patients said they felt patient-provider communication was strong during their virtual care visits.
For Your Organization: In 2020, 76% of U.S. hospitals used telehealth to remotely connect doctors and patients, an increase of more than 40% from 2010. For starters, telehealth greatly improves access to health care for many different underserved populations. Not only does this help generate revenue, but it also enables health systems to establish stronger bonds with patients. Telehealth programs also help cut costs. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center saves almost $90, on average, every time a patient receives primary care or urgent care online as opposed to going to the emergency room or urgent care.
The benefits of telehealth programs are clear, but how to apply for the grants (and ascertaining what they can be used for) can be a bit challenging.
Applying for Grants Has Its Challenges
During a recent LinkedIn Live session hosted by Pivot Point Consulting, Julie Edwards, Director of Virtual Care at Carle Health, said grants are a great way to cover some of the operational costs related to telehealth, but she also acknowledged there are infrastructure pieces that need to be in place to have the best chance to secure grant funding.
“With all of the requirements around patient customization and putting the control of healthcare in the patient’s hands, that requires a lot of backend work,” said Edwards. “There are a lot of grant opportunities available, especially for smaller, rural or underserved areas. But, a lot of times, they don’t have the internal resources to actually put grants together.”
The importance of having the right resources in place to apply for grants cannot be overstated. First, there are plenty of grant opportunities at the state and federal levels that should be reviewed and considered. On top of that, there are also grants available through private philanthropy that should not be overlooked. Organizations also need to consider that each state has its own telehealth laws, regulations and requirements that could further complicate the process. The process can get so convoluted, that Edwards recommends for organizations to start planning a year before applying for grants.
Nick Loftin, Director of Virtual Care at Pivot Point Consulting and a panelist during the LinkedIn Live session, said organizations need to be detail-oriented when seeking grants—or they could trip themselves up when allocating grant money.
“There may be two grants that can give you the same amount of money, but one of them can only be used for a very specific thing,” said Loftin. “So, you want to make sure that you’re allocating those correctly.”
Where to Find Telehealth Grants Right Now
Before you start searching for grants, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- You can tailor your search based on specific patient demographics, like age, location and ethnicity.
- Many grants run on yearly cycles, as opposed to being a one-time source for funding.
- There are plenty of opportunities that have specific application windows. Don’t miss important application deadlines!
- There are a number of grants that are not limited to federally qualified health centers.
- Apply to any and all grants for which you qualify. Every dollar counts!
Here is a partial list of sources for grant opportunities:
- Agency of Healthcare Research and Quality
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
- Health Resources & Services Administration
- National Science Foundation
- Rural Health Information Hub
- U.S. Department of Agriculture
If you’re having issues trying to understand complicated telehealth laws and requirements—or striking out in your search for the right grants,Pivot Point Consulting is here to support you in all stages of the process —from planning out your telehealth initiatives to finding specific funding that best fits your organization.