Nebraska hospitals could lose federal telehealth funding

Tuesday, September 28 2010

Several Nebraska hospitals are in danger of losing their federal funding for telehealth services.

Telehealth, which uses video conferencing to connect patients and rural hospitals with major urban healthcare centers, is especially important in states with sparse and spread-out populations, such as Nebraska, where the nearest hospital could be several hours away. However, thanks to a new law that redefines "rural" hospitals as serving fewer than 25,000, rather than 50,000, people, Fremont Area Medical Center and three other Nebraska hospitals could lose federal funding for telehealth services in mid-2011.

Senator Ben Nelson recently wrote to Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, asking that FAMC, along with hospitals in Kearney, Grand Island and Norfolk, be permanently grandfathered to maintain funding for the Nebraska Statewide Telehealth Network, the Fremont Tribune reports.

"Rural Nebraskans and the hospitals that serve them rely on telehealth services tremendously," Nelson said. "I've heard from medical professionals in Nebraska who give examples of how rural telehealth services allow them to monitor patients remotely and provide specialized services across the state. Furthermore, since many rural Nebraska hospitals share statewide telehealth network infrastructure, when one hospital loses funding, they all pay the price."

Telehealth initiatives in other states, such as California, have also received state and federal funding. The governments of other countries, such as Australia - which also has a decidedly rural population - have begun financing telehealth initiatives as well.