Dr. Kimberly McDonald, left, a pediatric geneticist, speaks with Elizabeth Barber about her son Jarvis' condition. Jarvis is being held by his sister, Anna.
Dr. Kimberly McDonald, left, a pediatric geneticist, speaks with Elizabeth Barber about her son Jarvis' condition. Jarvis is being held by his sister, Anna.
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National telehealth accreditation affirms quality of UMMC's patient care

Published on Thursday, September 5, 2019

By: Ruth Cummins

Mississippi has a shortage of pediatric geneticists to treat young patients with sometimes life-threatening diseases that are rare or difficult to diagnose.

But through the Center for Telehealth at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, kids statewide have access to those services through remote, two-way live audiovisual conferencing.

Tearsanee Carlisle Davis

“It can be the difference between a child getting a genetic workup and parents knowing what is going on with their child, or not,” said Tearsanee Carlisle Davis, a family nurse practitioner and the center’s director of clinical and advanced practice operations.

A recent accreditation awarded by a national nonprofit to the UMMC Center for Telehealth is affirmation of such high quality of patient care delivery. 

The honor comes from URAC, a nonprofit organization and independent leader in promoting health care quality through leadership, accreditation, measurement and innovation. URAC helps organizations transform by developing national standards to improve quality, protect consumers and improve health outcomes.

Portrait of Dr. Alan Jones

“It’s an important way of showing that we meet a certain bar related to the programs that we implement through telehealth,” said Dr. Alan Jones, professor and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine and interim director of the Center for Telehealth. “It shows that there are policies, procedures and standards in place for the way that we apply telehealth.”

URAC accreditation is a symbol of excellence for organizations to showcase their validated commitment to quality and accountability, its leaders say. URAC requires applicants to submit policies, procedures and other organizational information. A primary reviewer is assigned and coordinates all aspects of the review until a decision on accreditation has been determined.

“By earning Telehealth Accreditation from URAC, the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Center for Telehealth is operating on the cutting edge of health care delivery,” URAC President and CEO Dr. Shawn Griffin said in a statement. “Independent accreditation demonstrates UMMC can provide value-based care to more people while meeting performance standards conceived by a broad array of telehealth stakeholders.

“As technology becomes more critical in achieving population health goals, UMMC blazes a trail that others follow.”

The Center for Telehealth allows UMMC providers to examine and treat patients using live, two-way audiovisual technology, store-and-forward technology, and remote patient monitoring programs on computers, tablets and smartphones. UMMC is filling a void by providing telehealth through partnerships with community based hospitals, critical access hospitals, clinics, community mental health clinics, community health centers, businesses, schools and colleges.

Shirley Crnkovic reviews the equipment she'll take home with Bone Marrow Transplant outpatient nurse Rebecca Smith.
Rebecca Smith, right, bone marrow transplant outpatient nurse, reviews the equipment Shirley Crnkovic will take home.

Remote patient monitoring provides in-home care and health education to patients who cope with chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart failure and hypertension.

Specialty care offered includes pediatric services such as genetics, child development, forensic medicine, endocrinology, urology and mental health; and adult services such as cardiology, endocrinology, mental health, Alzheimer’s and dementia care, dermatology, congenital heart, hematology and oncology, and infectious diseases.

UMMC provides telemergency services in some of the state’s rural and critical access hospitals, connecting their emergency rooms in real time to emergency medicine physicians on duty in the Medical Center’s Emergency Department. Those on Mississippi’s state health insurance and employees in some corporate settings can take advantage of UMMC2You telehealth urgent care.

The Medical Center in 2017 became one of just two institutions in the nation designated a Telehealth Center of Excellence by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. That national accolade included an initial $600,000 in funding, followed by an additional $2 million in 2018 and this year HRSA funding will be $3 million.

UMMC earned the URAC accreditation after applying for the first time, Davis said.

The accreditation is all about quality of care, she said, and “the organization itself. We’re not a freestanding organization. We’re part of a larger health system. We’re able to provide a higher level of continuity of care, and transition of care, because of that affiliation. That sets us apart.”

One example: If a telehealth provider sees a patient through UMMC2You urgent care, the provider might detect additional problems needing attention. “That patient may or may not have ever been seen at UMMC,” Davis said. “We have the ability to make connections and referrals for that patient, and help that patient navigate through the health care system. We can build that relationship.”

Few organizations exist that have sets of standards used to accredit telehealth programs, Jones said. “We can point to external validation of our robust system in telemedicine, rather than just in traditional medical care delivery,” he said.

Patients with some medical challenges aren’t candidates for telehealth. But for the many who are, “our goal is to re-create the in-person exam as much as possible, and maintain that same or better standard of care,” Davis said.