MUSC named one of the first national Telehealth Centers of Excellence with HRSA grant

October 03, 2017
Drs. Kathryn Cristaldi (left) and Dee Ford
Drs. Kathryn Cristaldi (left) and Dee Ford will be leading a grant to improving telehealth services. Photo by Sarah Pack

The Medical University of South Carolina has been awarded a $600,000 grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The award marks MUSC as one of only two national Telehealth Centers of Excellence in the United States. As a national telehealth coordinating center, MUSC will continue to provide a range of telehealth services at more than 200 locations statewide, leading and modeling the way for health care delivery through advanced technology. 

“This is a phenomenal achievement,” said Patrick Cawley, M.D., MUSC Health CEO and vice president for Health Affairs. “This grant acknowledges the premier position that our telehealth team has established not only in South Carolina but across the nation. It serves as another clear affirmation of our institution’s commitment to fulfill our vision — to lead health innovation for the lives we touch.”

As a founding member of the South Carolina Telehealth Alliance, a collaboration established to empower care providers and patients across the state to effectively use telehealth, MUSC is well prepared to lead these efforts. The institution has a long history of accomplishing its three-part mission in a state with largely rural areas and high rates of chronic disease among a particularly impoverished and medically underserved population.

Confident in the patient care, research and educational leadership expertise within the institution, the South Carolina legislature has supported expanding telehealth across the state through the SCTA, acknowledging MUSC’s proven track record of achieving astronomical growth in telehealth services while keeping cost effectiveness at the forefront. 

Shawn Valenta, MUSC Health Center of Telehealth director, said this is among the first-of-its-kind HRSA grants with only two awarded in the country. “Grant funds will allow the MUSC telehealth team to leverage the unique qualities intrinsic to our academic medical center and extend this mission nationally to accelerate the dissemination of best practices to achieve effective and efficient care.” 

Valenta praised the efforts of the physicians spearheading the project. "We are very grateful for the efforts of Dr. Dee Ford and Dr. Kathryn Cristaldi, who led a robust team to pull together a phenomenal application. As co-principal investigators on the award, Dr. Ford and Dr. Cristaldi will leverage the amazing work of our Center for Telehealth’s programs and MUSC’s scientific resources to focus on recommendations and solutions to universally complex telehealth barriers such as systems-level telehealth integration, provider engagement, open access networks, and rigorous financial evaluations."

Through the grant, MUSC will continue to: 

  • Look beyond using telehealth to merely replicate care over distance.
  • Achieve efficiencies within health care delivery and assess the impact on the patient, the referring site, the consulting provider, the payer, and the health care system.
  • Balance the need for population-level outreach while concurrently using a targeted approach to health system integration.
  • Foster a culture of collaboration and understand the importance of interdisciplinary efforts.
  • Strive for deep understanding of barriers and facilitators for the diffusion of innovations in rural health care settings and team experience in overcoming these barriers.
  • Enhance alignment of historically competing health systems for the benefit of patients.
  • Reinforce the commitment and expertise necessary to use evidence-based, data-driven approaches to identify needs for telehealth services and to monitor and improve existing programs.
  • Work with legislators and policy-makers to develop and maintain bipartisan support for telehealth initiatives.
  • Demonstrate robust financial accountability and efficient use of resources for telehealth.
  • Rely on a proven ability to recognize and facilitate the development and testing of new ideas for improving rural health and the care of underserved populations.
  • Build upon high levels of provider acceptance through innovative education and training initiatives.

South Carolina Representative Murrell Smith said the legislature has placed a lot of trust in MUSC and the other members of the South Carolina Telehealth Alliance to use telehealth to improve access to quality health care. “This achievement is a testament to the leadership, collaboration and hard work that’s been taking place these last few years,” he said. “We are proud of what MUSC and SCTA have been able to accomplish thus far, and we take comfort knowing that no matter what happens with the health care debate at the national level, we have an effective and cost-conscious model that we hope one day will enable every citizen of our state to access the high-quality care they deserve.”

South Carolina Senator Thomas Alexander agreed. “Innovation in health care is a critical component of how we offer forward-thinking solutions to today's challenges,” he said. “The South Carolina legislature recognized the potential for MUSC and SCTA to carve the path to better health across this state by employing advanced technology and strategic thinking. This grant gives MUSC the opportunity to share that knowledge and success on a national level, and we are proud to support this extended impact.”

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