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Arkansas e-Link Project Update

Brenda Pickby Brenda Pick

Now that the three-year Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant project is complete, there is evidence of its impact in several rural communities. Examples of expanded telehealth services being offered as a result of the grant include:

  • cardiac care provided by cardiologists to rural areas,
  • behavioral health consultations with inmates in city jails, and
  • expansion of the e-ICU services to rural hospitals.

There is increased interest in receiving required continuing education through distance learning for healthcare providers in rural locations and collaborations between colleges offering health curriculum and healthcare providers. In the uncertain climate of healthcare reimbursement, Arkansas BTOP grant recipients are looking for ways to become streamlined and collaborative in how business is conducted.

Telehealth reimbursement continues to be an issue in Arkansas. To further this cause, an Arkansas State Senator who chairs the Legislative Committee on Public Health, Welfare, and Labor has drafted a bill and anticipates it will be introduced by the end of 2014. This bill will begin a year-long Interim Study Proposal seeking legislative support of telehealth reimbursement. Many of the grant recipients will be interviewed as stakeholders before the committee. The success of this legislation could significantly impact the long-term viability of this program.

UAMS successfully led the Arkansas Telehealth Network coalition in receiving a grant for the USAC Rural Healthcare Pilot Project. We have received approval from NTIA and FCC to migrate the Arkansas e-Link membership into the new FCC Healthcare Connect Fund program as a consortium which will be led by UAMS. Approved entities may obtain 65% discounts for eligible expenses, thus benefiting current and future network participants, as well as positively impacting the future network growth.

Finally, the broadband expansion has also provisioned more competitiveness among telecom companies. This has positioned telecommunications providers to extend services to Arkansas consumers in many rural areas