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UTHSC, West Tennessee Healthcare Collaboration in Telemed Research Seeks Insights into Rural Patient Experience


The University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Nursing and West Tennessee Healthcare are collaborating on a study to better understand access to health care since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic for older, rural patients living with heart failure.

Sarah Rhoads, PhD, DNP

Problems with health care access have been a side effect of the pandemic, and some people are delaying medical appointments. About one-third of people nationwide delayed medical care in the last four weeks, according to the Household Pulse Survey, a collaboration of the National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau to understand health care issues related to COVID-19.

Sarah Rhoads, PhD, DNP, WHNP-BC, FAAN, a professor at the UTHSC College of Nursing, received a $162,409 supplemental grant from the nonprofit Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to assess the experiences of rural heart failure patients age 55 or older who have had in-person or telemedicine care visits during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Hearing from patients about their health care experiences is vital,” she said.

Claude Joseph Pirtle, MD, chief medical information officer for West Tennessee Healthcare, said most research involving telemedicine has been done in urban areas. “This will offer a window into rural patient experiences and how to make them better,” he said.

West Tennessee Healthcare is a public, non-profit health system headquartered in Jackson, Tennessee, that comprises 90 medical sites, including seven hospitals, in 19 counties. Dr. Rhoads said the health system is an excellent partner in rural health research, because of its extensive clinical network.

The pandemic definitely increased the use of telemedicine in West Tennessee, Dr. Pirtle said. “Before COVID, we had zero telehealth, but it grew very rapidly beginning in mid-March.”

He encourages patients who meet the criteria to participate in the survey. “What you say can help make things better for future patients.”  Patients can receive access to the survey by email, text message, or mail.

The multisite study also includes the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock. Dr. Rhoads hopes to enroll 500 patients through each study site. The study enrollment period began in December 2020 and will continue at least through March 31, 2021. Each participant who completes the survey will receive a $50 gift card to Wal-Mart.

For more information about the survey, email telemed@uthsc.edu, or call 901.448.4999.