HHS announces grants for rural telehealth training to fight opioid abuse

Three states will receive $9 million in grants to help train rural physicians in efforts to fight opioid addiction, HHS announced at the meeting of the National Governors Association.

The agency said the grant recipients may use a model closely related to Project ECHO, a program developed at the University of New Mexico where rural physicians participate with weekly videoconferencing with teams of specialist at academic medical centers, presenting cases and collaborating on treatment options.

The initial efforts were centered on Hepatitis C treatment, but the same methods have been adapted for other diseases. This effort has led to widespread recognition of the model for its potential to improve care in rural areas, such as a Senate proposal introduced in May that would require HHS to analyze whether the ECHO program could work nationally.

POLITICO reported this set of federal grants, specifically targeted at opioid abuse and addiction, will go to 28 counties in Oklahoma, 24 in Colorado and 23 in Pennsylvania.

Anti-opioid abuse efforts were a major focus of the meeting in Washington, D.C. A total of 46 governors signed the “Combat to Fight Opioid Addiction,” pledging to work with healthcare providers to update opioid prescription guidelines, require prescribers to receive extra training on pain management and opioid addiction, and integrate data from state prescription drug monitoring programs into a patient’s electronic health record.