Miss. telehealth pilot targets diabetes epidemic

To address the epidemic of chronic illness in Mississippi, the state government, the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) and Intel-GE Care Innovation are investing $1.2 million in an 18-month remote care management program to help rural patients with diabetes better manage their condition. If successful, the partners hope to replicate the program on a statewide level.

“Our state has always ranked one or two in all major diseases like diabetes, and we really want to turn that around,” Kristi Henderson, DNP, director of the Center for Telehealth at UMMC, told Clinical Innovation + Technology.  

Gov. Phil Bryant is slated to announce the launch of the program on Jan. 23 during his state of the state address.

The telehealth program aims to test a new clinical model and analyze its impact not only on cost savings, but patient engagement and health outcomes. It took “many months” to develop the coordinated approach and each partner has committed resources and finances to make it a success, Henderson said.

The telehealth pilot will recruit approximately 200 adult patients with uncontrolled diabetes from rural areas in Sunflower County. Each participant will receive a tablet with a customized program for diabetes management. They will upload biometrics, in particular glucose levels, via Bluetooth into a portal where a team of telehealth nurses will monitor patients' progress.  

The telehealth nurses will engage participants and answer any questions that may arise. “Someone will own their quality of care and make sure they don’t fall through the cracks. [The nurses] will adjust care delivery to meet their needs,” said Henderson. Nurses will engage in a weekly clinical review of patients to ensure monitoring is on track.

In addition, the telehealth nurses can use the technology to tap the expertise of ophthalmologists, endocrinologists, dieticians and other specialists so they are part of the treatment plan. “It’s great to bring the resources of the medical center to the rural community.”

Henderson admits that the program is multifaceted, but said with a condition as complex as diabetes, you have to tackle it at all angles—from examining behavioral issues, pushing education, managing medications, bringing in specialists and linking patients to community resources.

Telehealth is not new to UMMC, but chronic disease management at the home level is a novel approach that Henderson hopes will bring real results.

“If we can do it in Mississippi, we can do it anywhere,” she says, noting that the state must overcome particularly complex financial, social and behavioral barriers.