Skip to main content

Maine Looks to Expand Library Telehealth Program

Analysis  |  By Eric Wicklund  
   December 29, 2022

Maine's 'Libraries Health Connect Program' was launched in 10 rural libraries earlier this year, offering healthcare services to residents who may have access issues. The state is one of several using libraries as telehealth sites to improve access for underserved populations.

A telehealth program launched earlier this year in 10 rural Maine libraries is expanding, one of several such programs across the country that aims to improve healthcare access in communities where access can be difficult.

The Maine State Library's "Libraries Health Connect Program" was launched in April, using $50,000 from the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to equip selected libraries with telemedicine technology and links to healthcare providers for such services as wellness visits, prescription requests, follow-up care, specialist consults, nutritional counseling, behavioral health services, and other non-urgent care.

"Maines libraries are committed to ensuring their communities have access to equitable services," Jamie Ritter, Maine State Librarian, in a press release issued earlier this year. "This means offering programs that you might not associate with your library, like telehealth. We strongly believe that where you live should not dictate the quality of your healthcare. These libraries are leading the way for establishing libraries as another way Mainers can connect with a healthcare provider."

The program is designed to help underserved residents in rural locations access services, and the libraries were chosen for the program based on what officials called "endemic community health issues and a lack of ready access to healthcare."

Libraries chosen for the program are located in Islesboro, Caribou, Houlton, Fryeburg, Steuben, Paris, Jonesport, Pittsfield, Skowhegan, and Dover-Foxcroft.

Officials are now looking to expand the program, either by adding more libraries or expanding the services offered.

"Living in Maine and rural areas you might have to drive a long way to get to see a specialist, and certainly in the wintertime, like the storm we just had, but in the wintertime that can be an extra challenge," Marijke Visser, the Maine State Library's director of library development, said in a recent TV news story.

Maine isn't the only state brining telehealth to libraries. Several see libraries as an ideal location for telehealth, serving as a community meeting place and having the necessary broadband availability to support the technology.

"Access to telehealth is essential for people to get the care they need when traveling to an in-person visit isn't possible,” Ken Zambos, program manager for workforce and economic development in Pima County, Arizona, said in a story posted by the Southwest Telehealth Resource Center (SWTRC). “By providing this service, the library is providing access to equipment that transforms healthcare delivery and positively affects healthcare outcomes."

In many cases, libraries need only dedicate a small, private space within the building for the service, with a booth or table that includes a laptop, audio-visual connections, assorted connected medical devices, and a virtual link to healthcare providers.

"By facilitating telehealth appointments and routine screening for members of under-served communities, libraries can deliver healthcare to those in need," John Chrastka, executive director of EveryLibrary and the EveryLibrary Institute, said in a white-paper released in 2021. "Many libraries have never considered this approach to helping their patrons, but it's possible. Some libraries are already doing it."

Eric Wicklund is the Innovation and Technology Editor for HealthLeaders.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Maine launched a program earlier this year in 10 rural libraries that offers telehealth services to residents who may have problems accessing care.

The state is one of several using libraries as telehealth sites to expand access to care for underserved populations.

Advocates say libraries offer an ideal location for telehealth services, as they often serve as community meeting sites and have needed broadband capacity.


Get the latest on healthcare leadership in your inbox.