LEXINGTON, Ky. — The exponential growth in technology is forever altering the landscape of health care. Currently, 60% of millennials would prefer a virtual health care experience to in-person care. Lack of access to services remains a growing issue for populations in both rural and urban areas. The University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences (CHS) is stepping in to address these needs by pioneering training in telehealth for future health care practitioners through a new graduate certificate program.
The Graduate Certificate in Telehealth is the first of its kind among health sciences colleges and is the only telehealth certificate available in the state of Kentucky.
“Technology is driving the future of health care. This program is critically important because it allows us to train practitioners who will reach underserved regions without previous direct access to a health care professional,” said Scott Lephart, dean of the UK College of Health Sciences.
“The goal of our interprofessional certificate is to deliberately and systematically train health care graduate students and practicing professionals to be leaders in development, implementation and evaluation of telehealth models,” said Joneen Lowman, associate professor in the communication sciences and disorders program, who is at the helm of the new certificate.
Telehealth, or the delivery of health care services through electronic communication, has been at the forefront of CHS academics since 2015. First through Lowman’s Linking Kids to Speech Language Pathologists (LinKS) program — where communication sciences and disorders students deliver tele-experiences in Kentucky homes and schools — and now with the expansion into a certificate program.
“This is an exciting step toward optimizing the rapidly growing field of telehealth. We’re all aware of the significant impact telehealth has in diminishing the major barriers (geography and access) between medical professionals and families in need,” said Victoria Schaub, a CHS alumni and member of the first LinKS cohort, who recently started a telehealth program for her employer. “Standardizing interprofessional education in this area only serves to strengthen and promote the increased effectiveness of telehealth as it will create connections between a collaborative team to more easily provide comprehensive care.”
The health care field is under pressure to expand access to care while reducing the overall cost of care. The mandate for increased efficiency cannot be met unless the industry uses innovation to extend the reach of all health care providers.
“One of the most important activities we can undertake is to train the next generation of health care providers to be competent in the use of telehealth technology which can quickly and efficiently connect any patient with any provider,” said Rob Sprang, director of Kentucky TeleCare, a telehealth program at the University of Kentucky that supports the clinical, educational and research missions of the academic medical center.
“The UK College of Health Sciences has been a leader in training their own students and faculty in the use of telehealth, but the College’s new interprofessional telehealth certificate program is intended to teach evidence-based clinical practice techniques for telehealth to any health care trainee or practitioner,” Sprang said. “This program is built upon the successful model, developed over many years by the college, to train their own faculty and students to become effective telehealth practitioners.”
The Graduate Certificate in Telehealth is comprised of three 3-credit courses (nine total credit hours) offered across three consecutive semesters beginning summer of 2020. Enrollment is open to all students participating in a health care graduate program and to practicing health care professionals seeking to build upon their skills sets. True to its name, course content is delivered using a hybrid approach of on-line learning methods supplemented with an in-person seminar each semester.
“While pursuing this certificate, students will first receive a broad overview of the telehealth landscape from its beginning to future applications,” Lowman said. “We then move on to the importance of interprofessional collaboration and advocacy for the field, using a systems-based approach to discuss the various iterations of telehealth across the lifespan, and finally preparing the learner to engage in his or her professional scope of practice within a telehealth environment.”
Lowman believes equipping future providers with this type of training will resonate throughout the commonwealth and beyond.
“Telehealth practice curbs lack of access to care in rural areas and addresses the growing need for services in urban and suburban areas,” she said. “Families today operate under huge demands on their time. Our program is poised to send practitioners out into the world who can provide a solution to the gaps traditional health care models face.”