Dr. Joseph Sanford took over as director of the Institute for Digital Health & Innovation (IDHI) at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in February, just as the pandemic was making clear the value of telemedicine.
He told Arkansas Money & Politics that broadband development represents a “huge” opportunity for the state.
Sanford earned his medical degree and completed his anesthesiology residency at UAMS and a fellowship in management of perioperative services at Stanford University School of Medicine. He joined the UAMS faculty as an assistant professor in 2015, and since 2019 has served as an associate professor of anesthesiology and biomedical informatics and associate vice chancellor and chief clinical informatics officer.
AMP: Does broadband development in rural Arkansas represent the biggest challenge to your work right now?
Sanford: Broadband development is a huge opportunity for Arkansas. While it is a lot of work, we have a great team of passionate people. My biggest challenge right now is the increase in COVID-19 cases in Arkansas and helping to further facilitate outpatient digital health and support inpatient care.
AMP: Other than access to reliable internet, what are the state’s biggest challenges when it comes to digital health?
Sanford: Digital health and telemedicine have their own set of regulatory requirements and billing needs, which have changed since the pandemic began, and we expect more change to come. Educating providers on these, in addition to the technical and logistical considerations of incorporating digital modalities into their practice, is an important part of our mission.
AMP: Once barriers such as internet access are removed, are there any real limits to how telehealth could help transform communities?
Sanford: While telehealth cannot replace an in-person medical visit completely, there are incredible opportunities to augment the partnership a patient has with their primary care provider to add specialized expertise, assist with after-hours coverage and facilitate care coordination. All of this is with the goal of a patient being able to receive the same quality of care regardless of where in Arkansas they live.
AMP: Talk about some of your other programs that benefit Arkansans.
Sanford: UAMS IDHI has many programs working to improve the health and wellness of Arkansans. These include the Perinatal Outcomes Workgroup for Education and Research (POWER), HealthNow, the Stroke Program and the Tele Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (TeleSANE) programs. POWER is working to improve maternal and neonatal outcomes; HealthNow offers virtual urgent care, HIV prophylaxis as well as COVID programs such as monoclonal antibody virtual screening; and TeleSANE provides clinicians with real-time access to the knowledge and support they need to provide to care for those patients who have experienced a sexual assault.
AMP: What’s the next big advancement in telehealth?
Sanford: I think the next big advancement in telehealth will be in how health systems, particularly those interested in value-based care, take in-home medical device data and integrate it into their routine practice. Although this capability is currently being used at places like UAMS, the user experiences for both patient and provider are not yet seamless. Once any home medical device, such as a thermometer, can intuitively be allowed to share data with a medical system, we will have a greater opportunity to care for patients who might otherwise not receive it.