Udall, Heinrich Announce $15 Million for Expanded Telehealth Services through UNM Health Sciences Center

WASHINGTON, D.C.Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich announced that the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of New Mexico (UNM) Health Sciences Center has been awarded $15,120,767 to test expansion of their telehealth infrastructure system that will provide 30 hospitals statewide with remote emergency neurological and neurosurgical consultations. The funding is being awarded through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Innovation Center. The award will support the Access to Critical Cerebral Emergency Support Services (ACCESS) initiative and help to provide improved emergency care at lower costs to rural communities throughout New Mexico.

The ACCESS initiative aims to increase availability of emergency neurological care by improving the timeliness of care, decreasing avoidable inpatient admissions and preventing unnecessary transfers between hospitals. In partnership with Net Medical Xpress Solutions, based in Albuquerque, the project will provide patients at hospitals throughout the state with 24/7 remote access to emergency neurological and neurosurgical consultations conducted by medical experts based at the UNM Medical Center in Albuquerque. Each hospital will also receive equipment and tools to aid in neurological diagnosis and treatment on site, avoiding needless transfers to Albuquerque. Physicians, nurses, radiology technologists and administrative staff in community hospitals will also receive education and training in neurological conditions via the telehealth systems, to help support local providers in the delivery of optimum care. The award provides neurological consultations to Medicare or Medicaid enrollees at no cost to the patient at the community hospitals. Greater access to highly specialized care in local hospitals throughout the state will help decrease the number of patients that need to be transported to larger hospitals, enabling patients to receive care faster and reducing transportation costs.

The principal investigator for the project, distinguished professor and chairman of neurosurgery at UNM, Dr. Howard Yonas, will collaborate with a team of highly trained neurologists and neurosurgeons at the UNM Medical Center to provide state-of-the-art neurologically-based telemedicine services throughout the state.

“Small hospitals provide essential emergency services in many of New Mexico’s rural communities, and telehealth technologies are an effective way to expand patients’ access to fast and reliable emergency care options,” Udall said. “New Mexico has been a leader in telemedicine, and this project is another example of how to build a medical network statewide to support rural health care. This funding will help Dr. Yonas and his dedicated team at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center improve access to state-of-the-art neurological emergency care to patients throughout the state, and I will continue to work to enhance and improve access to emergency services such as emergency neurological care in New Mexico’s rural and medically underserved communities.”

“This important federal investment will help develop a more effective and efficient telemedicine network to expand its reach across New Mexico,” Heinrich said. "Telehealth presents the opportunity to reverse the longstanding paradigm of placing the burden on patients to seek care where it is physically available. By eliminating archaic barriers and expanding opportunities for remote health care, hospital patients, including those in our rural communities, will have access to the best medical experts around the state available to them. This project is invaluable to New Mexico, and with the guidance from Dr. Yonas’ talented team at UNM’s Health Science Center, it will have a tremendous effect on patients who need neurological emergency care. I will continue to support these programs so that everyone in New Mexico has access to quality health care when they need it.” 

“We at UNM Health Sciences Center are grateful that CMS is recognizing that a relatively small investment like this will be able to improve the care of many New Mexicans while actually saving health care dollars in the long run,” Yonas said.  

The award was one of 39 announced by the CMS Innovation Center throughout the country.