Federal Communications Commissioner Mignon Clyburn has much to report back to Washington, D.C., after sharing ideas on “telehealth” with Jackson State University health professionals and others.
Moderating a “town hall” style meeting at the JSU Medical Mall campus on Wednesday, Clyburn orchestrated questions and answers from the public about advancements in health care relating to telecommunications.
Clyburn told the crowd of about 150 that the FCC is seeking “new and innovative partnerships with broadband” communications that bring health care services right into the home. The purpose of the meeting was to share information about these services by health care professionals and gather information from the public about areas that can be better served, she said.
The move to promote “telehealth” — or using Internet broadband communications to address health — is an effort by the FCC’s Connect2Health Task Force. The visit was part of task force tour to get “beyond the Beltway,” or D.C.-area, to engage the public, she said.
Clyburn was introduced by Dr. Johnny Gilleylen, associate professor and chair of the Department of Public Policy Administration, for the discussion with a distinguished panel that included: JSU Associate Professor of Public Policy and Administration Dr. Gloria Billingsley; Assistant Professor and Clinical Supervisor of Communicative Disorders Dr. Celeste Parker; and visiting Assistant Professor Dr. Corey Wiggins, director of the Mississippi Economic Policy Center and state health chair for the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP.
Other health care experts included: Dr. Paul Byers, deputy state epidemiologist for the state of Mississippi; Robert Pugh, executive director, Mississippi Primary Health Care Association, which oversees approximately 120 primary community health care centers around the state; Dr. Kristi Henderson, chief telehealth and innovation officer for University of Mississippi Medical Center; and Dr. Karissa Price and Scott Laidlow of GE-Intel Care Innovations, which provides technological support for remote monitoring and other services.
In a wide-ranging two-hour discussion that included written questions from the audience that Clyburn gave the panel, the landscape of health care in Mississippi was revealed to be quite challenging.
For example, Byers noted that Mississippi routinely ranks among the worst in the nation in obesity, diabetes, strokes and hypertension. “We also have one of the lowest per capita rates of physicians,” he added.
However, Henderson, who heads up UMMC’s burgeoning cybercare program, said that the “phone that you carry in your hand can help you connect to health care,” and Mississippi is currently leading the nation in Internet assisted care. “No more do you have to drive to health care,” she said, for routine visits.
A challenge, the panelists agreed, was getting the infrastructure out to rural areas where poor and impoverished people often need health care the most.
Pugh said that the Mississippi community clinics his organization oversees treat 300,000 patients a year. Some 60 percent suffer from some type of chronic illness that can be managed by “telehealth.”
But 92 percent of those served by the clinics are below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, Pugh said. About half have neither private nor public health insurance.
So, while “telehealth” might be growing, Pugh said, there must be more support, more resources, more infrastructure, and there must be more health care providers willing to sign on to it, in order for it to be effective.
“Health is more than health care,” Pugh said, noting that where patients live, work and worship is important, too.
That requires a “holistic approach,” said Price, including alternative health — yoga, herbs, nutrition — with informed support offered through Internet broadband connectivity.
It should include activism toward addressing “food deserts,” or areas where no locally grown fruits and vegetables are grown or sold, said Wiggins. A business model can address those needs, Wiggins added, but areas to be addressed must be determined first.
Panelists agreed: There must be cultural support to create a “culture” of health and someone to “quarterback” the process, to ensure rural, elderly, impoverished and historically underserved patients have access to care.
Clyburn said that the FCC offers infrastructure support for communities to build “telehealth.” She urged the public and public officials to see the FCC’s website: http://www.fcc.gov/health.
Clyburn, who has served since 2009 on the five-member commission that regulates interstate communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable, said afterwards that her trip to Mississippi would help “tweak” public policy. It doesn’t matter how good a policy might appear in Washington, she said, it falls short if it’s not reaching the public.
“We hear you,” she said, of the FCC.