UAMS Researcher Awarded $500,000 to Study Quality of Digital Care

By Spencer Watson

The funding is a supplemental award to a $4 million study funded last year to directly compare digital delivery of health care to standard in-person visits for patients with heart failure.

“The adoption of digital health tools has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but there’s not a lot of good evidence on how well they really work, especially for older patients who are often already really sick, like heart failure patients,” said Leanne Lefler, Ph.D., APRN, an associate professor in the UAMS College of Nursing. “The science has just not kept pace.”

The research, conducted by the College of Nursing, in cooperation with West Tennessee Healthcare and the support of the UAMS Institute for Digital Health & Innovation, will survey 1,000 heart failure patients to determine quality of care and patient satisfaction with digital visits in the past year.

“These are all older, frailer patients who need to see a care provider frequently,” added Lefler. “We want to determine whether they feel digital care during the pandemic has met their needs. During the pandemic, we rapidly switched to digital care delivery because in-person visits were not available, but we don’t really know how well those visits are working for these patients. So we want to ask them.”

The survey will augment Lefler’s original study, which will divide participants into groups receiving either digital care or in-person care and will track their health and compare things like emergency interventions over a six-month period. Both sets of patients will receive tools to monitor their health in real time throughout the study.

“Many of these patients often struggle to travel, so digital health seems to offer better ease of access, but not without its own barriers like technical difficulties or lack of technology or connectivity,” said Lefler.

“There’s a lot we can learn here. During the pandemic, many care providers have received a waiver to classify patient contact, including some phone calls, as a digital health visit. Investigating how much patients have benefitted from those practices can help us in evaluating long-term policy,” she added.

UAMS is the state’s only health sciences university, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a hospital; a main campus in Little Rock; a Northwest Arkansas regional campus in Fayetteville; a statewide network of regional campuses; and eight institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Psychiatric Research Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Translational Research Institute, Institute for Digital Health & Innovation and the Institute for Community Health Innovation. UAMS includes UAMS Health, a statewide health system that encompasses all of UAMS’ clinical enterprise. UAMS is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. UAMS has 3,275 students, 890 medical residents and fellows, and five dental residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 12,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians who provide care to patients at UAMS, its regional campuses, Arkansas Children’s, the VA Medical Center and Baptist Health. Visit or Find us on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), YouTube or Instagram.