If the future of healthcare is in cutting-edge technology, consider Andi Agnew a pioneer. Well, sort of. After all, Agnew is the first grants and contracts administrator for the Center for Telehealth at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. It’s her job to find the money to fund the research and development for the work she is calling the next big thing in medicine.
A one-time music therapy major who almost flunked music theory, Agnew chose psychology and received a masters from the University of Memphis. In the earliest years of her career, she focused on vocational rehabilitation, working with adults with mental illness. When she moved home to Mississippi in 2003, she took a job with the State Department of Rehabilitation.
In more recent times, Agnew slowly transitioned from a post with Disability Rights of Mississippi to non-profits like the Multiple Sclerosis Society and, later, the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society. Those jobs gave Agnew her grant writing and research experience. “I had to learn how to do it,” she says. People often ask if she took classes to pick up the skills. “I probably should have, but it’s just something I enjoy and, I think I’m good at it.” She calls herself a “nerd for grant writing.”
The 36 year-old Jackson native says that many of the initiatives she worked on in the past benefited from pharmaceutical grants. “They have focus areas and have to give out money,” she explains. The trick, then, is finding who’s giving what. “You tailor your projects to that.”
At UMMC, Agnew sees a ground floor opportunity to be in on the the future of medicine. Telehealth uses technology like webcams, computers and smartphones to allow medical professionals to diagnose and treat patients remotely. While UMMC has been in telemedicine for ten years, technology is just catching up. “We didn’t have smart phones then and the technology has come a long way,” Agnew says. “Even Medicaid is now required to pay the same for a telehealth visit as they would for an in-person doctor’s visit. This is really opening doors.”
Agnew cites a couple of examples, notably the shortage of dermatologists in the state and how telehealth is paving the way for remote treatments. “With an app on your smartphone, you take a picture of a suspicious rash or mole and send it instantly,” she explains. In another instance, Agnew sees the beauty of this new tech assisting rural medicine. “In places where a hospital may not have a specialist on staff, telemedicine takes doctors — via webcam — to that hospital, who then instruct medical professionals in treatment.” Agnew says the number of those who need to be airlifted or travel to Jackson is reduced significantly. “Today it’s dermatology; tomorrow, maybe, mental health.”
A Belhaven resident, Agnew says she walks to work. “I mapped it and figured I’m only a mile from my house. I walk for exercise anyway, so why not?” she asks. “The first couple of days, I drove to the stadium (UMMC employee parking). When I timed it, it may have taken me longer. It’s not worth it and (walking from home is) better for my health anyway.”
At her past non-profit jobs, Agnew wore many hats. At UMMC, she is focused and happy. “UMMC wants to be an employer of choice,” she says of their retention and incentive efforts. “They do so much to attract and keep employees. “I love it. It’s a great place to work.”