What state is a national leader in two important health care areas? That would be Mississippi, thank you very much.
While the state ranks poorly on health issues ranging from obesity to diabetes to cancer deaths, it shines when it comes to telehealth and children’s vaccinations.
In February, Politico ran an article about the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s efforts to electronically connect with small, rural health care facilities. They were losing patients, and some even faced closing because of a dire physician shortage that was forcing patients from across the state to drive to the university medical center in Jackson for specialty care.
So Kristi Henderson, the university’s chief telehealth and innovation officer, led the development of the Center for Telehealth. The center now offers services to 165 sites, and includes 35 specialties. It provides 8,000 telemedicine visits a month ranging from diabetes counseling to robots that examine premature babies. Politico reports that costs dropped 25 percent at small hospitals that no longer had to contract with temporary physicians for their emergency departments. And early data indicate positive results in areas like cardiac arrest, and blood sugar control for patients with diabetes.
Mississippi also received much-deserved accolades when an unexpected outbreak of measles surprised and alarmed medical professionals and parents elsewhere around the country. It turns out that the state has the highest vaccination rate for school-age children against mumps, measles and rubella.
The Washington Post reported that last year, 99.7 percent of the state’s kindergartners were fully vaccinated. Amazingly, just 140 students in Mississippi entered school without all of their required shots. That success is attributed to a robust public health program and the fact that only strictly medical exemptions are allowed for vaccinating kids before they enter school. There are no exemptions for religious or philosophical reasons, though that is now being challenged by vaccination opponents.
For now at least, Mary Currier, M.D., Mississippi’s state health officer, told the Post in January, “It’s nice not having measles in Mississippi.”