The HRSA Office for the Advancement of Telehealth (OAT) promotes the use of modern telecommunications and information technologies to bring state-of-the-art health care and health information to every community, particularly medically underserved and isolated regions. OAT has worked to expand HRSA's evaluation activities and coordinate the development of evaluation tools with other agencies supporting telemedicine. Funding for telemedicine initiatives occurs through two grant programs: 1) the Rural Telemedicine Grant Program and 2) the Rural Health Services Outreach Program.
The goals of the Rural Telemedicine Grant Program are to improve access to quality health services for rural residents and reduce the isolation of rural practitioners through the use of telemedicine technologies. The program's objectives are to:
- demonstrate how telemedicine can be used as a tool in developing integrated systems of health care, thereby improving access to health services for rural residents; and
- evaluate the feasibility, costs, appropriateness, and acceptability of rural telemedicine services and technologies.
Eleven projects were funded in FY94 for a three-year project period, and 18 projects were funded in FY98 for a three-year period. The HRSA Office of Rural Health Policy (ORHP) originally administered this program. However, these activities were charged to the OAT when it was organized in August 1998.
The Rural Health Services Outreach Grant Program funds projects to support the direct delivery of health care and related services, to expand existing services, and to enhance health service delivery through education, promotion, and prevention programs. Outreach grants require the establishment of a network that is composed of three or more health care organizations, or a combination of health care, social service, and other organizations that support the delivery of health services. The grant program is administered by ORHP, however those projects concerning telemedicine are managed by OAT officers. In 1997, ORHP published Exploratory Evaluation of Rural Applications of Telemedicine, which includes a nationwide survey of all rural hospitals, a follow-up survey of those indicating telemedicine capability, and site visits at four programs.