Struggling rural healthcare providers nationwide getting virtual help from San

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SAN ANTONIO – – Healthcare worker shortages and lack of resources were already issues for rural communities before the COVID-19 pandemic and when it hit, those barriers were exacerbated.

That’s why national funding has created a virtual program aimed to help those providers.

The Rural Telementoring Training Center (RTTC) is based at UT Health San Antonio.

RISE (Resources, Information, Support, and Education) for Rural Telementoring officially launched this past week, but the program has been in the works for about a year and is already reaching hundreds of rural providers nationwide.

“Often rural healthcare workers may be the only one or one of only a few people providing a certain service,” said program director Dr. Waridibo Allison.

Dr. Allison and her team provide virtual trainings, technical assistance and evaluations for providers nationwide.

“An example I often give is around Hepatitis C. So Hepatitis C treatment can be carried out by specialists, but it can also be carried out by primary care providers if they have the right information and training,” Allison said.

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Her team and their partners provide that virtual training so rural patients don’t have to drive hours to a major city to see a specialist.

“It is isolating and that’s why trying to provide as many resources for them within that one single community is important,” said the program’s community health worker Raudel Bobadilla.

Bobadilla is constantly visiting those rural clinics, seeing first-hand what they need.

“They want educational programs. They want training opportunities,” he said.

The telementoring program offers that in the form of webinars, virtual one-on-one consultations and even podcasts.

RISE for Rural Telementoring provides training and tools for six models of:

  • “Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO®),” a well-established model for guided practice and lifelong learning that connects community-based health workers with experts to discuss cases and share best practices.

  • Individual consultations between health care providers and subject matter experts.

  • Webinars

  • Online modules and curricula

  • Podcasts

  • Community health clubs, which involve groups that gather for structured sessions to support each other, learn about a health topic, and organize action on a health issue that is important to their community.

The RTTC formed from a three-year, nearly $3 million grant in September 2020 from the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This funding is part of the agency’s Rural Health Communities Awards, a sustained effort to improve care in rural communities.

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“That provides peer support for them and that alleviates isolation,” Dr. Allison said.

Giving providers peace of mind allows them to offer patients better, more well-rounded care that they’re likely to continue if they can stay in their own communities.

Providers that want to set up telementoring sessions, improve a program they already have, or just ask some questions can visit the program’s website or email them at RTTCinfo@uthscsa.edu.

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