By: Catherine Saar 

January 22, 2021 marks the launch of an exciting peer learning series for over 75 providers of telehealth training and technical assistant (TTA) to Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs).  The event underscored the richness of information and the power of collaboration when many voices pursuing a singular goal come together, in this case, to support FQHCs more effectively by implementing telehealth.

Telehealth was an inconsistently used modality for care delivery before the coronavirus pandemic. All that has changed. With patients unable to meet providers in-person for fear of COVID contagion, telehealth use has skyrocketed this past year. And while the Country is in a public health emergency, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act enacted a general waiver provision enabling the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to temporarily lift outdated originating site and geographic restrictions on Medicare’s coverage of telehealth-enabled services. Loosening of these restrictions made widespread telehealth expansion possible through adequate reimbursement, while the pandemic made it medically necessary.

Perhaps what is most remarkable is how quickly a majority of the FQHCs, also known as community health centers (CHCs) were able to adapt and increase their use of telehealth. According to the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC),  “As of September 2020, 95 percent of health centers provided visits virtually. During the Public Health Emergency, Medicare and Medicaid adopted policies that have allowed health centers to provide vital primary and preventive care virtually. These policies allow health centers to ensure their patients continue to receive the care that they rely on, often from the comfort and safety of their own homes.”

And as many of us can imagine, the rapid adoption of a massive change has its challenges. The many training and technical assistance providers who supported the CHCs in their telehealth implementation faced many obstacles during the rapid telehealth rollout. TTA providers continue to work directly with health centers to determine how to make telehealth sustainable, to ensure that health center staff are well trained, that patients can access telehealth services and that processes and procedures flow smoothly into health center operations.

To that end, NACHC and the National Consortium of Telehealth Resource Centers (NCTRC) joined forces and conceived of Peer Learning convenings, the “National FQHC Telehealth Training and Technical Assistance (TTA) Partners Roundtable (“Roundtable”) recognizing that CHCs require ongoing, coordinated and effective TTA during their telehealth journey. With funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration* (HRSA), the Roundtables were launched to offer an opportunity for TTA peers to share best practices, resources, and next steps. The TTA providers invited to the Roundtable are HRSA-funded Primary Care Associations (PCAs), Health Center Control Networks (HCCNs), Telehealth Resource Centers (TRCs), and National Training and Technical Assistance Partners (NTTAPS), which number over 150 entities. Each of these different nonprofit organizations provides a wide variety of training and technical assistance to CHCs, in addition to telehealth support. Integrated Work is honored to provide project management and facilitation services for the duration of the Roundtable project and events and will help to create a TTA asset inventory and a final report at the completion of the project this summer.

The first Roundtable meeting took place on January 22, 2021 with over 75 professionals from PCAs, HCCNs, NTTAPs, and TRCs in attendance. Participants made new connections and shared their Telehealth TTA experiences: the good, the challenging, and the possible.

This first Roundtable focused on the theme “Where we are now” and fostered discussions addressing TTA providers’ experiences at the start of the pandemic, their most salient learning to date, their most requested TA resources, the things they wished they had done better, and how best to structure services and resources for easy discovery and dissemination. Participants also listed their greatest current concerns, including policy and reimbursement issues, and laid a foundation for future discussions of how TTA resources and delivery models are likely to change going forward.

Contributions by participants will be captured in the final National Telehealth TTA Asset Inventory, representing a collective body of knowledge curated from Roundtable meetings that reflects the array of TTA services offered to health centers in the area of telehealth. In addition, a final report will capture analysis and recommendations to provide insight to funders and other stakeholders about the needs, resources, and challenges of telehealth implementation and sustainability at community health centers (CHCs).

Two more convenings are planned for March 26 and May 28, each one demonstrating the power of collaborative, coordinated action amongst peers working together to deliver excellence and sustainability in telehealth for underserved patient populations.

 

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” captures the spirit of this effort.

African Proverb

To find out more about the Telehealth TTA Partners Roundtable project, click here, or reach out to the project points of contact: Jonathan Neufeld, jneufeld@umn.edu, Program Director at Great Plains TRC, Gina Capra, gcapra@nachc.org, Vice President at  NACHC, Catherine Saar, catherine@integratedwork.com, Facilitation Lead at Integrated Work.

 

*This project is supportedby the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of an awardtotaling$7,287,500 with 0 percentagefinanced with non-governmental sources. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by HRSA, HHS, or the U.S. Government. For more information, please visit HRSA.gov.