I am very pleased to launch our latest effort to encourage more widespread use and understanding of the life-saving field of telemedicine through our Power of Telemedicine web discussion. Telemedicine has grown steadily over the past decade. The USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) has participated consistently along the way, supporting innovation in telemedicine as early as 1993 with our Distance Learning and Telemedicine grant program. Our telemedicine program is designed specifically to meet the health care needs of rural America. Through loans, grants and loan and grant combinations, advanced telecommunications technologies provide enhanced health care opportunities for rural residents. It, together with our Distance Learning program, has funded over 900 projects in 48 states and several US Territories totaling over $300 million.
Now, we’re excited to use web-based tools to receive feedback from the broad constituency of telemedicine practitioners, patients, institutions, and others touched by these innovations. We hope that a public discussion will help establish best practices guidelines for broadband and technology developers.
Our rural families, clinics and hospitals frequently have suffered from not having ready access to health care. There are fewer doctors per person in rural regions, far less access to specialty physicians, and driving times to health facilities are greater. Using advanced telecommunications technology, telemedicine enables the sharing of resources of major hospitals, the specialties of more doctors, and sophisticated diagnostic tools that are often too expensive to be deployed to lightly populated regions.
We look forward to working with organizations such as the American Telemedicine Association in continuing to gather feedback and ideas. Your comments will allow us to improve our programs and to chart the way toward additional new efforts in the future. In the coming weeks, please help us by contributing your thoughts to our Open Government discussion forum. Through the Power of Telemedicine effort, we are inviting the public, and especially telemedicine practitioners and user communities to provide input on how we can achieve our goals with telemedicine.