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Governor Beebe's weekly column and radio address: Broadband Health Care

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Arkansas’s innovative approach to implementing health-care reforms has garnered national attention. Instead of increasing the number of people receiving traditional Medicaid services, we’ve developed a plan to expand health-care coverage using federal dollars to purchase private insurance policies. Now other states are looking to our plan as a possible model for their own citizens.

We’ve also been working to make our state’s health-care system more efficient. The Arkansas Health Care Payment Improvement Initiative will change our system from a pay-per-service model to a patient-based model focused on outcomes. One of the initiative’s main goals is to lower the cost of health care by eliminating unnecessary and duplicated medical procedures. Again, other states have looked to us as an example to emulate.

These comprehensive efforts will make health care more accessible and affordable for many of our people. While much of the attention has focused on the cost of health care, access has been an equally daunting challenge. In fact, 73 of our 75 counties are designated as medically underserved, and 54 of our counties have primary-care shortages.

However, we’ve had another program under way for almost three years now that has also been a game-changer for us. A federal grant from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, or BTOP, has helped substantially upgrade broadband services and equipment throughout our health-care system. BTOP better connects our hospitals and other institutions across our State through telemedicine services. Using telemedicine allows us to provide clinical health care at a distance and in real time. Previously, access to complex care for some Arkansans was three to four hours away. But now, thanks to the advances we’ve made with the grant, every Arkansan is within 60-90 miles of specialized care.

Our telemedicine programs at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences have served as a lifeline for many patients. For example, the ANGELS program is designed to lower our infant mortality rate through telemedicine resources. In the seven years before the grant, the program made about 8,700 telemedicine visits possible. In just the first two years since the BTOP grant, we’ve already facilitated more than 10,000 such visits.

Other states are studying our successes in telemedicine as they work to make similar improvements. This next week, Arkansas will participate in the Broadband Telemedicine Summit in St. Louis. Representatives from Missouri and Illinois will examine our efforts as they too work to improve health-care access and quality through telemedicine services.

For years, Arkansas has hovered toward the bottom of national rankings in both health-care outcomes and access to broadband Internet services. The changing landscape of health care has highlighted how closely these two issues are related. That’s why we have made improving our broadband infrastructure and telemedicine resources important parts of our comprehensive health-care changes.

As we continue our bold initiatives to re-shape our health-care system, we are becoming a model state that others may emulate. Our shared ideas and innovative approaches may eventually improve the health of people not just in Arkansas, but across America, as well.