Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia has been awarded a $489,085 US Department of Agriculture rural development grant, which will be used to expand access to quality specialty healthcare for rural Georgians through the company’s telemedicine program.
Telemedicine uses medical technology to allow patients and their family doctors to consult with specialists at distant locations. The Georgia telemedicine program – the largest rollout of a telemedicine network in the US, will provide all 8.8 million Georgia citizens with access to specialty healthcare, without the need to travel across the state to get it.
The goal of the program – a unique partnership between the Georgia Department of Insurance and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia (BCBSGa) – is to ensure that all Georgians, not just BCBSGa members, are less than 30 miles from a telemedicine site, allowing convenient access to the state’s top healthcare specialists.
This grant is a testament to the fact that telemedicine is needed in Georgia, and already having a positive impact, said Monye Connolly, president of BCBSGa. Since the inception of our telemedicine program in March 2005, there have been approximately 900 patient encounters throughout the state, and this number is quickly growing. In fact, there were 154 encounters in February of this year alone.
In addition to telemedicine, in 2006, BCBSGa and Georgia insurance commissioner John Oxendine launched a teleradiology program that provides rural hospitals with increased access to radiologists. Without teleradiology, many rural hospitals in Georgia must transport diagnostic film, such as x-rays, 30 miles or more to the nearest healthcare facility with a radiologist on duty who can read the film and provide an expert diagnosis.
US Department of Agriculture (USDA) funding, which in part must be matched by BCBSGa, will help build upon the existing network by expanding clinical telemedicine sites, services, clinic capabilities and utilization levels. The grant will assist in funding equipment for three additional rural sites, five specialist sites and two new teleradiology sites. In addition, the grant will fund new equipment required for the telemedicine network that is available to all Georgians.