Telemedicine increases access, reduces inequality in Montana

Montana has unique challenges in providing health care to a widely dispersed population of just over 1 million people.


Of the 56 counties in Montana, 55 are designated Health Professionals Shortage Areas (HPSAs), limiting access to routine and emergency medical visits. Travel costs and long distances between healthcare providers and patients are commonly cited reasons for patients to delay or avoid medical care.

The use of telehealth technology can improve access to health care for Montanans living in rural and tribal communities by providing access to primary and specialty care services. . Montana is also home to a large Native American population, about 7% of the population. Tribe members experience significant health disparities in part due to unequal access to health care.

“These pre-existing strains have left many rural and tribal communities particularly vulnerable to these impacts,” said Erica Woodahl, director of the LS Skaggs Institute for Health Innovation and a professor at the Skaggs School of Pharmacy. extent of the COVID-19 pandemic. at the University of Montana.

“Rural and tribal populations have a higher burden of chronic disease and comorbidities that are known to increase the risk of COVID-19-related morbidity and mortality,” she continued. “The life expectancy of all Americans has decreased in the two years since the pandemic hit, but no group more than those from the tribe has had nearly seven years of life expectancies.”

The pandemic has also reduced access to routine care, she added, leading to an increase in preventable complications from chronic diseases, including emergency room visits, hospitalizations and overall health care costs, she added.

“Additionally, communities without nearby clinics or hospitals do not have adequate access to coronavirus testing or care, leaving rural and tribal patients vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19,” she noted. . “This adds to pre-existing strains on the rural health care system due to lack of providers, limited hospital beds and other resource constraints.”


In the University of Montana Medical School telemedicine operation in Missoula, services will be provided through a centralized hub at the university with synchronous and asynchronous telehealth services. Kits are provided to rural and tribal communities in partnership with clinics, hospitals, and pharmacies across the state.

Equipment purchased with help from the FCC’s tele-funding program will enable the expansion of services within UM’s Medical College.

“While the initial utility of telehealth technology to improve care for underserved populations focuses on the immediate delivery of health services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” explains Shayna. But the benefits to patients will extend beyond the pandemic to address the challenges of providing health care to Montanans.” Killam, PharmD, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Montana’s Skaggs School of Pharmacy.

She continued: “Telehealth technology provides clinicians with the tools they need to bridge the gap in healthcare access and deliver quality healthcare to patients. Montana. “Services will specifically target patients living in rural and tribal communities with chronic medical conditions and comorbidities.”

The organization envisions a broad reach throughout Montana, leveraging partnerships with clinical training locations and clinical affiliates to provide centralized telehealth services to many types of patients.

“Programs at UM’s College of Medicine were awarded $684,593 by the FCC,” Killam reported. “Funds were used to purchase telemedicine and connected medical devices, providing critical and telemedicine services to patients in Montana.”

The Telehealth device will be used by faculty, residents, and students affiliated with the University of Montana College of Health. Grant recipients include the following:

  • Skaggs School of Pharmacy (SSOP).
  • Western Montana Residency Family Medicine (FMRWM).
  • School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences (UMPT).
  • School of Speech, Language, Hearing and Occupational Sciences (SLHOS).


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Pharmacist-driven programs provide services for community-based screening, education, and chronic disease management, including management of diabetes, asthma, cardiovascular risk, and mental health through point-of-care visits, medication management visits, and consultations with telehealth pharmacists.

“Connected medical devices and video conferencing hardware will be used to provide routine and urgent care visits with residents and healthcare providers,” said Woodahl. associated with FMRWM, including diagnosis and monitoring, chronic disease management, prenatal care and mental health services,” Woodahl said.

“UMPT programs provide in-home visits and services at end-user sites in rural and tribal communities, including telemedicine-enhanced assessment telemedicine, such as vestibular function tests and gait monitoring devices, telephony robots and video consultations with patients and other healthcare professionals,” she added.

Clinicians and students in SLHOS will conduct telemedicine visits through high-quality audio and video equipment that effectively assess and treat speech and joint disorders.


The University of Montana Medical School was awarded $684,593 from the FCC’s telemedicine grant fund to purchase telemedicine kits to enable critical, telehealth services and provide equipment connected to the internet for remote patient monitoring services for underserved rural and tribal populations in the state.

Killam explains: “UM’s College of Medicine has used the FCC’s telemedicine award fund to expand telehealth programs offered by majors with the overarching goal of increasing accessibility. access to health care and address inequalities in care.

“In addition to providing equal and accessible healthcare, telehealth technology will be used to train future health professionals,” she continued. “Actively educating our medical students has the potential to change the healthcare landscape in Montana and overcome the challenges presented by traditional models of care.”

Jennifer Bell, PT, clinical associate professor, school of physical therapy and rehabilitation sciences, says the purchased device has enabled physical therapists to participate in remote monitoring of patients while they complete their home interventions.

“Often, patients have difficulty with balance and functional mobility in their home,” she notes. “Using technology, we are able to see the patient’s home environment and support their mobility, reduce the risk of falls and complete a home exercise program.”

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
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Healthcare IT News is a publication of HIMSS Media.


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