Telehealth grants to US universities are up, but still underwhelming

By PAUL SELBY | 05.17.2018 08:01:58The US Telehealth Grants program, a $100m programme that provides grants to universities to develop telehealth technology, has been downgraded from a top-line success to a net-negative impact on universities’ budgets.

Telehealth grants were launched in 2010 with the aim of helping universities build telehealth capabilities across the US, but have since been largely sidelined by the technology boom, with universities struggling to keep up with the growing demand for healthcare.

However, the government announced in October 2018 that telehealth grants had been increased from $100 million to $120 million, which is now expected to be more than double the amount they were initially set to receive.

The telehealth grant will go towards new technology for hospitals, schools and universities to deliver telehealth services, but the funding will also be used to expand telehealth access to those who lack telehealth training, with the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) saying that “the telehealth funding will help provide a broad base of access to telehealth care.”

However, according to a report published by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a number of institutions have been unable to keep pace with the increasing demand for telehealth technologies.

“Telehealth grant funding is falling behind and has not kept pace with rapid changes in technology, including the introduction of new technology, with telehealth providers being forced to invest more in technology infrastructure to accommodate demand,” the FCC said.

It also pointed out that some universities have received grants that have actually gone to companies that have not been able to compete against Google and Facebook in the market for telephobic patients.

In a letter to the FCC, the FCC warned that “this is not good for consumers and for our country.”

The FCC’s review found that telehospitals are not using their telehealth funds efficiently and that many universities have failed to meet their contractual obligations to support telehealth, with some of the universities saying that they have “lacked the resources” to meet these obligations.

“It is critical that we ensure that telemedical systems are robust and able to handle rapid technological change,” the letter said.

“This includes telehealth infrastructure, technology and training, as well as financial management, legal and regulatory compliance, and oversight.”

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) also reported that telehospital spending has dropped significantly since the telehealth programme began, with funding for telemedical services having fallen by a third since 2011.

The FCC also cited a number, of issues with the Telehealth grant programme, including that there are “few proven telehealth-related technology applications or innovations, and the extent of the funding gap between the telemedical provider and the university has been growing.”

The agency’s final report, due out on August 31, 2018, said that it will continue to review the Telehosp grants program and that it “has significant concerns about the program’s viability.”

“It has become increasingly difficult to predict and track the progress of telehealth projects,” the report said.