4 IT tools that will help small and rural providers

Published
  • March 28 2017, 4:00am EDT

A look at tools for rural clinicians

Small and rural healthcare providers face many challenges in implementing healthcare IT. They’re hindered by staffing and financial limitations—the lack of budget prevents many small providers from transitioning between EHR vendors or bringing in outside resources; practices struggle to move beyond inefficient workflows and processes. And it’s harder to get rural patients engaged, compared with their metropolitan area counterparts.

Despite these challenges, small and rural health IT providers have more opportunities for achieving progress, says Stoltenberg Consulting in a recent issue brief. Here are the technologies that can help these struggling providers.

Mobile health

mHealth app usage doubled from 2013 to 2015, according to a PwC survey, and growth is expected to continue in 2017. Mobile health applications can help isolated healthcare providers improve outreach, population health management and patient engagement efforts, while keeping patients out of the hospital. Mhealth capabilities can also expand rural providers’ impact on patient follow-up care and wellness decisions for improved care delivery. mHealth capabilities can expand small and rural providers’ impact on patient follow-up care and wellness decisions for improved care delivery.

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Interoperability

Small and rural health providers are often at the mercy of their EHR vendors in terms of willingness and capability of data sharing, as well as necessary version updates to meet reporting requirements. With the passing of the 21st Century Cures Act, the U.S. government now clearly defines data blocking while issuing a commitment to holding the private sector accountable for transparency in health IT. This puts pressure on vendors to enable interoperability, which better connects small and rural providers to ensure better patient care and safety across patients’ medical journeys.

Telemedicine

According to a recent survey, 20 percent of patients would switch their current primary care provider if another provider offered them telehealth visits. Congress’ 2016 passage of the Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes (ECHO) Act offers opportunity for remote and rural health providers to offset budget, specialty care and staffing limitations.

ECHO expands Project ECHO’s model that pairs academic medical specialists with primary-care providers through virtual clinics for mentoring with behavioral and population health management. Proven through several academic studies, Project ECHO’s model overcomes rural physicians’ physical isolation through cost-effective access to specialty care best practices.

HRSA funding

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) allocated more than $16 million toward rural health telehealth and quality improvement initiatives. Administered by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy, the funding benefits 60 rural communities among 32 states. Of that, seven Rural Health Research Centers will receive $700,000 annually to investigate the health, economic and access challenges among these populations and how federal programs are impacting care and outcomes.