Wisconsin’s $5M for child psychiatry, community telehealth; FQHC patients prefer audio-only telehealth–Rand

The state of Wisconsin is granting $5 million to telehealth vendors, equally split between child telemental health and community telehealth delivery. Governor Tony Evers announced the grant series which was funded by the American Rescue Plan, the third COVID stimulus round of 2021 as part of the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund to bolster rural telehealth plus mental health. With COVID fading, the funds are being redeployed by states for related health initiatives.

Applications are due 6 May for:

  • Up to five one-year grants of approximately $500,000 will be provided to Wisconsin hospitals and health systems to expand and improve child psychiatry telehealth services
  • Between 25 and 50 providers to partner with community organizations to establish neighborhood telehealth access points at food pantries, homeless shelters, libraries, long-term care facilities, community centers, and schools. These are targeted to reach people with limited access to technology and reliable internet service. These are also one-year grants of up to $100,000 each.

While big telehealth funding for mental health grabs the headlines, at the local level, it is these state initiatives that often keep both providers and smaller telehealth companies going. State of Wisconsin release, mHealth Intelligence

RAND Corporation’s study of telehealth in Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) found that audio-only telehealth was used more frequently during the pandemic, and continued to be used by patients for behavioral health even when primary care shifted back to in-person visits. The study group was the California Health Care Foundation (CHCF)’s 45-center Connected Care Accelerator (CCA) program started in July 2020. These centers serve rural, low-income, and underserved populations, common in places like Wisconsin (this Editor worked with a successful FQHC ACO there) and in California.

Audio and video telehealth was problematic for both the patient population and the clinics. Those with limited English proficiency participated in a significantly lower percentage of video visits. Behavioral health centers also had difficulties. Centers that coordinated efforts to replace audio-only with video visits had specific promising practices.

According to the RAND study, “key facilitators of telehealth implementation were leadership support, patient willingness to use the technology, platforms that were easy to use and access, a sense of urgency within clinics, changes in reimbursement policy, and training opportunities for staff.” Another recommendation was to retain centers to serve as distant telehealth sites (and to be reimbursed). Also mHealth Intelligence

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