OU Health to Expand Life-saving Technology to Rural Oklahoma

  • Category: News
  • Posted On:
OU Health to Expand Life-saving Technology to Rural Oklahoma

Through a grant awarded to the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), experts at OU Health can now expand life-saving technology and expertise to rural hospitals in the state, where life expectancy is lower, and residents face an increased risk of death from stroke. 

USDA recently announced the $861,190 grant under the FY 2023 Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Program, administered by the Rural Utilities Service. In addition to the grant from USDA, the Department of Neurosurgery in the OU College of Medicine has committed $129,200 in support of funding telestroke equipment for rural Oklahoma hospitals, enabling emergency physicians in 23 counties to have direct-line access via technology to the OU Health University of Oklahoma Medical Center Comprehensive Stroke Center team 24/7/365. 

Approximately 40% of the Oklahoma population reside in rural and non-metropolitan areas. This means they have longer travel times to health care, and in general, those who live in non-urban areas have poorer outcomes if they have a stroke. On average, individuals who live in rural areas live three years less than people in urban areas. People in rural areas also typically have higher death rates from stroke and heart disease. Oklahoma is ranked 42ndnationwide in stroke prevalence among adults aged 18 and above and 45th in the hospitalization rate for ischemic stroke.

“The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences is pleased to partner with OU Health and the United States Department of Agriculture to expand life-saving technology to Oklahomans,” said Gary E. Raskob, Ph.D., Senior Vice President and Provost. “This initiative not only enhances access to vital stroke care but also aligns with our strategic priority to reduce health care disparities within our communities, both urban and rurally.”

Beyond addressing immediate healthcare needs, the grant dollars help bridge accessibility gaps in underserved areas of the state, said Shyian Jen, M.D., OU Health interventional neurologist, Telestroke Program medical director, and an assistant professor in the Department Neurosurgery in the OU College of Medicine. 

“We are honored and delighted to be the recipient of this grant from the USDA,” said Jen. “This grant enables us to extend our reach across the state to meet the needs of our rural communities. We want to increase access to high-quality stroke care in our rural hospitals no matter the patient’s zip code. Using telemedicine, our intent is to improve the health of all communities and people by reducing many widespread disparities in access to care, particularly those attributable to geography or provider shortages.” 

When a person experiences a stroke, having quick access to expert help can improve survival chances and reduce complications. However, many people living in rural parts of Oklahoma do not have access to stroke care experts and rely on their closest hospital for emergency care. 

“I’m a firm believer that OU Health is the right type of leader President Joe Biden is looking for to rebuild our economy by filling in the gaps of healthcare across our state,” said USDA Rural Development Oklahoma State Director Kenneth Corn. “By OU Health being a leader in this category the results will be that more Oklahomans will have accessible and equitable healthcare in their rural communities.”

Through the grant, OU Health provides a telemedicine cart that is stationed at participating facilities, complete with 24/7 support. By utilizing these services, local teams treating patients experiencing a stroke can connect to OU Health within minutes, drastically reducingthe time to administration of clot-dissolving medications, if appropriate, and other stroke treatments. They can also facilitate quick transfers to higher levels of care, if needed.

“OU Health is committed to working with community health systems to ensure that patients get the care they need, either close to home or in physical partnership with us through a direct connection to the expertise and advanced specialties of the state’s flagship academic health system,” said Ian Dunn, M.D., FACS, FAANS, OU Health Chief Physician Executive and professor and chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at OU College of Medicine.