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Rural Matters

Sep 15, 2021

In the second of our fabulous four-part series on Viewing Rural Health, Education, and Business Through an Equity Lens. produced in collaboration with and supported by Grantmakers in Health, Michelle talks with  Heather Dimeris. the Director for the Office for the Advancement of Telehealth (OAT), in the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and a Commander in the United States Public Health Service (USPHS); Marilyn Werber Serafini, director of the Health Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center and an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University; Mei Wa Kwong  Executive Director for the Center for Connected Health Policy (CCHP), the federally designated National Telehealth Policy Resource Center; and Walter Panzirer, a Trustee at the Helmsley Charitable Trust and grandson of Leona Helmsley. During the pandemic, Dimeris notes, telehealth expanded exponentially in utilization.  In 2020, health centers saw telehealth visits increase to more than 28 million, equating to a nearly 6,000% increase — with more than 5.7 million of these additional telehealth visits occurring in health centers serving rural communities This increase in telehealth services was possible because of the temporary flexibilities with telehealth reimbursement during the pandemic.  She also discussed the many ways that HRSA is seeking to address equity issues in rural areas in the further expansion of telehealth services, including a focus on tele-emergency care last year and on direct-to-consumer care this year,  in 2021. In addition, just last month, HRSA announced funding more than $19 million in key telehealth investments in rural and underserved communities. (Check out for more information about telehealth and broadband resources for both patients and providers.) BPC recently conducted a national survey about lessons learned about telehealth use during the pandemic, Serafini notes, which found that about one in seven people (14%) who used telehealth said they would have sought care in an emergency department or urgent care if telehealth was not available, and that more than half of those people had their primary health issue resolved. The survey also found that consumers are likely to use telehealth in the future as it has served as a valuable tool for accessing routine and preventive care during the pandemic, she adds  Kwong says that the pandemic broadened awareness of telehealth and its breadth of utilization, but adds that  while telehealth is a terrific tool for providing these virtual services, it is important to note that many rural residents do not have the capability to access broadband. Panzirer describes how the Helmsley Foundation is funding needed health projects to address equity access in the rural upper Midwest.  This episode and the entire series is sponsored by Grantmakers In Health (GIH),  a nonprofit, educational organization dedicated to helping foundations and corporate giving programs improve the health of all people. Learn more by visiting