The University of Florida College of Medicine’s department of pediatrics has been awarded a nearly $1 million federal grant to expand telemedicine services and equipment among underserved and vulnerable populations.
The $967,957 award from the Federal Communications Commission’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program will be used to acquire an array of monitoring and diagnostic equipment, including tablet and laptop computers as well as Wi-Fi access points. It will also be used for specialized home monitoring equipment such as internet-connected stethoscopes, electrocardiogram equipment for heart monitoring, blood pressure cuffs, continuous blood-glucose monitors and otoscopes for ear, nose and throat evaluation.
“This will enable all pediatric specialties to reach patients who cannot visit our practices and who have not had access to our providers previously through telemedicine. It will allow us to provide health equity, narrow health disparities, reach vulnerable populations, improve disease management and provide preventive pediatrics in a way that we have not been able to before. To do this, we will need to really listen to diverse populations and tailor telemedicine to achieve the best outcomes for all,” said Desmond Schatz, M.D., interim chair of the UF College of Medicine’s department of pediatrics — part of UF Health, the university’s academic health center — and interim physician-in-chief of UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital.
The funds will help an already robust pediatric telehealth program optimize care and give patients remote access to specialized providers during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
“This FCC award will support direct-to-patient telemedicine during the COVID-19 outbreak. Individualized telemedicine kits will be created and shipped directly to families in need to ensure they can maintain safe and highly effective access to general pediatric and specialty care. We look forward to seeing the long-term effects of improved telemedicine access for children in the state of Florida during and after the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Michael J. Haller, M.D., chief of pediatric endocrinology.
Some of the new equipment needed for the telehealth expansion will be shipped as soon as July 1 while the remainder will arrive in the next three to four months, Haller said.
The grant comes amid an overall surge in telehealth visits at UF Health. As a wave of COVID-19 cases spread this spring, UF Health experienced a more than 7,000% increase in telemedicine appointments during a one-month period in March and April. Now, almost every UF Health practice has a telehealth component. In addition to reducing the risk of infection, pediatric telehealth has other advantages. For example, young heart patients and their families sometimes come long distances to UF Health for specialized care and follow-up appointments. A single telehealth visit can eliminate the time and expense of traveling to Gainesville from, for example, the Panhandle or Jacksonville.
The grant was authorized by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, and is among $157.64 million in funding for telehealth initiatives in 46 states and Washington, D.C.