Despite its now-widespread use, telehealth still poses barriers for many patients, such as limited access in rural areas and privacy concerns. In August 2021, the Biden-Harris administration announced the investment of billions of dollars to meet immediate COVID-19 needs and help improve hospital care to rural communities. The funding includes more than $19 million in telehealth to improve the initiative in rural and underserved communities.

The funds will go to 36 award recipients supporting five programs: Telehealth Technology-Enabled Learning Program, National Telehealth Resource Centers, Regional Telehealth Resources Centers, Telehealth Centers of Excellence, and the Evidence-Based Direct-to-Consumer Telehealth Network Program.

“Telehealth expands access to care and is a vital tool for improving health equity by providing timely clinical assessment and treatment for our most vulnerable populations,” Health Resources and Services Administration Acting Administrator Diana Espinosa said. “This funding will help drive the innovation necessary to build clinical network, educational opportunities, and trusted resources to further advance health."

The funding will lower prescription drug and other healthcare costs, as well as improve the quality of drinking water in rural communities, according to a statement from the White House.

The Biden-Harris Administration said the investment includes:

  • $8.5 billion from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to help compensate healthcare providers who serve rural Medicare, Medicaid, and Children’s Health Insurance Plan patients for lost revenue and increased expenses associated with COVID-19
  • $500 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create the Emergency Rural Health Care Grant Program to help rural hospitals and local communities increase access to COVID-19 vaccines and testing, medical supplies, telehealth, and food assistance, as well as support construction or renovation of rural health care facilities
  • $52 million from HHS to train healthcare workers to fill in-demand professions affected by the pandemic

Other plans included expanding access to pulmonary rehabilitation services, expanding Veterans Affairs training programs for rural providers, increasing access to telehealth, lowering healthcare and prescription drug costs, and improve the safety of rural drinking water, among others.

As the face of health care, nurses must be prepared to advocate for equal healthcare opportunities for all patients, regardless of social determinants of health like geography and other factors that limit access to care. Telehealth is a vital resource in health care. Learn more about the benefits of telehealth and how to provide for patients digitally with ONS resources like the Oncology Nursing Podcast and ONS Voice.