Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

No-Cost Program Offered – AHRQ Telemedicine Safety Program: Improving Antibiotic Use

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) Safety Program for Telemedicine: Improving Antibiotic Use is a no-cost program that seeks to promote appropriate antibiotic use while maintaining patient satisfaction and reducing potential side effects in patients seen via telemedicine. They are currently recruiting primary and urgent care facilities, including community health centers, to participate in the program. This program, beginning in June 2024, consists of brief educational presentations about best practices to optimize antibiotic prescribing in the telemedicine environment. Participants will have access to technical assistance, coaching, webinars, and practical tools to implement improvements in their practice. The program is offering credit via the American Medical Association (AMA), American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Maintenance of Certification (MOC), American Association for Physician Assistants (AAPA), and Interprofessional Continuing Education (IPCE) to participants at no charge.

Webinars Being Offered on Population Health Management: A National Learning Series

More than a dozen HRSA-funded National Training and Technical Assistance Partners (NTTAPs) are collaborating on a webinar series throughout March. Each webinar will focus on strategies for developing, evaluating, and supporting effective healthcare delivery models. Coordinators will ensure that webinar materials are practical, enhancing skills directly related to the training recipients. Visit the Population Health Management Task Force’s website for session details and registration.

Survey Finds Pennsylvania Hospital Strategies Are Reducing Staff Vacancies

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the number of open positions for healthcare workers in Pennsylvania hospitals is declining as hospitals invest more to retain employees, according to a new survey by The Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP). The Hospital Workforce Survey found that nearly all hospitals surveyed said they have been raising pay and making changes to work schedules. Some have also been offering flexible hours and even childcare to retain workers. Nearly 90% of hospitals also reported offering professional development opportunities or tuition reimbursement.

PhRMA Releases “Fact Sheets” on 340B Program

PhRMA, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association, a trade association representing pharmaceutical manufacturers, has released a set of “Fact Sheets” showing how 340B operates in each state. After stating that the 340B program is “broken,” the fact sheets focus on two issues:

  • Whether 340B hospitals provide adequate charity care. For example, the PA sheet reads “hospitals in Pennsylvania make 7.1 times as much from 340B as they spend on charity care.”
  • Out-of-state pharmacies under contract with in-state covered entities, including that “PBMs and chain pharmacies also now make a profit from this safety-net program.”

View PhRMA’s one-pager on each state.

New Provisions Finalized to Enhance Integrated Care and Confidentiality

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through its Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), finalized modifications to the Confidentiality of Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Patient Records regulations at 42 CFR part 2 (“Part 2”), which protect the privacy of patients’ SUD treatment records. Specifically, the final rule increases coordination among providers treating patients for SUDs, strengthens confidentiality protections through civil enforcement, and enhances integration of behavioral health information with other medical records to improve patient health outcomes.

HHS Finalizes Rule on Telehealth at Opioid Treatment Programs

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently finalized a rule that will allow opioid treatment programs to begin some medication assisted treatment via telehealth. Under the rule, providers at opioid treatment programs will be able to initiate treatment with buprenorphine through audio-only or audio-visual telehealth. They can begin methadone treatment via an audio-visual platform – but not through an audio-only option due to its higher risk profile, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The regulation utilizes permanent telehealth flexibilities that began during the COVID-19 pandemic to preserve access to care and tackle a worsening opioid epidemic. Though FQHCs are not classified as opioid treatment programs, this information may be useful to your referral process.

Changes for Pennsylvania Certified Peer Specialists Enhance Ability to Provide Supports

The Pennsylvania Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) worked with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to revise PA’s State Medicaid Plan regarding the qualifications of who is eligible to become a Certified Peer Specialist (CPS) in the Commonwealth. Qualification requirements were changed to better align with OMHSAS’ goals of breaking down barriers, increasing workforce opportunities for individuals with lived behavioral health experience, and creating a comprehensive and financially secure crisis system for all Pennsylvanians. Individuals interested in becoming a CPS will see the following changes:

  • Will no longer need to self-identify as having a Serious Mental Illness or Serious Emotional Disturbance but instead attest that they have a mental health diagnosis and have reached a place in their recovery pathway where they can positively support others in a similar situation.
  • Will no longer need a high school diploma or general equivalent diploma. Instead, they will be asked, as part of their application through the Pennsylvania Certification Board (PCB) to provide information, in their own words, of how they achieved and maintained recovery and wellness.
  • Will no longer need to have successful full or part-time employment or volunteer experience within the last three years.

Increases in Payments to Medicare Advantage Plans Expected

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has announced that government payments to Medicare Advantage plans in 2025 are expected to increase an average of 3.7 percent from 2024. With the growing popularity of these private plans, it is important that policymakers and consumers understand how Medicare Advantage works, the key issues around cost and value, and ways to ensure plans provide effective, efficient, and equitable care. In Commonwealth Funds’ Medicare Advantage primer, learn more about:

  • the differences between Medicare Advantage and traditional Medicare
  • how the government pays plans
  • why Medicare Advantage costs the government more than traditional Medicare
  • and the extent of choices and competition among plans