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Upstate wins fcc grant

Upstate awarded $2M to upgrade, support its telehealth infrastructure

Upstate Medical University has been awarded $2 million from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to help upgrade and support its telehealth infrastructure with a focus on video consults and remote patient monitoring as part of its electronic medical record (EMR) system. The upgraded telehealth platform will be deployed across the institution connecting dozens of Upstate clinics and physical sites.

The funding will help strengthen and streamline telehealth options for Upstate and patients many of whom come from miles away to access Upstate’s singular medical services.

“The pandemic has shown us firsthand the necessity of a sound telehealth program that features electronic access to medical records, test results and realtime patient appointments through a video option,” said Mantosh Dewan, MD, president of Upstate Medical University. “This funding allows us to move our institution forward by leaps and bounds as we break down barriers to care and move to our goal as a smart hospital.”

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer applauded the investment. “The COVID pandemic made it all too clear that the digital gap in many communities across Upstate New York is far too wide,” said U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer. “This smart federal investment will help close that gap by enabling patients across Central New York to access specialized care they need and deserve from top-notch professionals at SUNY Upstate Medical University.”

Upstate estimates that 97,500 patients in Central New York could be supported by this upgraded telehealth infrastructure with approximately 250 earmarked to receive broadband access through the project, who may not otherwise have this access.

“The benefit of increasing our telehealth abilities will be seen dramatically by our patients,” said Robert Corona, DO, MBA. “The ability to access medical care from home in a more upgraded approach is important for individuals with chronic conditions and other diseases that may limit one’s ability to travel, but still needs a viable, timely connection with a medical provider.”

Corona said this telehealth connection would be especially helpful for transplant patients who benefit from reduced exposures to infectious diseases; refugees requiring interpretative services; diabetes patients who benefit from ongoing monitoring; behavioral health patients challenged with attending in-person visits; and rural populations unable to access specialized care without traveling many miles.  In addition, the Epic integration will ease communication with patients admitted to the hospital, by enabling virtual visits and remote monitoring.  

The pandemic pushed Upstate to expand and increase its telehealth program. Nearly 70 percent of clinics offered telemedicine opportunities. At its busiest, Upstate averaged about 6,000 telehealth visits a week.

An earlier FCC grant was used to install and deploy iPads in COVID-19 patient rooms where access was limited during the height of the pandemic. The iPads helped facilitate virtual visits with patients from medical professionals and family members. Without entering patient rooms often, the hospital was able to conserve its use of PPE and still connect with patients. 

Upstate is expected to begin work on the project over the next few months and could have the new system up and running by early 2022.

“It’s important to note that Upstate made significant progress on our patient access to our services through telehealth at the height of the pandemic,” Corona said. “But this recent funding allows us to significantly upgrade our offerings and ensure ease of access for all our patients.”

Upstate does have a robust telehealth medicine program in many areas, especially stroke, where its telestroke program allows physicians to consult with colleagues and see patients in outlying hospitals where neurologists may not be available to examine patients.