Four years after President Obama set aside $20 billion for the modernization of health information technology, helathcare providers across the nation have ditched antiquated file systems and embraced electronic health records. Many hospitals in rural areas, however, have struggled to keep up with the new technology.
So far, 2013 has been a year filled with progress as record numbers of healthcare providers have adopted EHRs. As recent estimates indicate that payouts through the EHR Incentive Program for Medicare are set to soar over the $12 billion mark, approximately 27,500 eligible professionals have succesfully demonstrated meaningful use.
Unfortunately, statistics for hospitals in smaller towns and cities are not as promising. Out of the 1,164 critical access hospitals–hospitals usually located in remote rural areas that offer outpatient and inpatient services–only 17 percent have completed meaningful use attestation. This figure is well below the percentage of all eligible hospitals that have successfully implemented EHRs, which rose to 73 percent as of February.
There are several challenges that have prevented rural hospitals from keeping up with the adoption of new healthcare technologies. One problem that many CAHs have struggled to navigate is raising funds to make initial investments in EHR implementation. Although the incentive program assures that healthcare providers are rewarded for upgrading to EHRs, implementing technologies and strategies to complete meaningful use attestation can be expensive. CAHs also have problems accessing broadband service and health IT workers.
Several organizations are offering solutions to help rural areas catch up to their urban counterparts. The United States Department of Agriculture, for instance, provides programs to fund telecommunications infrastructure through the Rural Utilities Service. The USDA also provides loans and grants through the Community Facilities Program.
There are also solutions being offered to CAHs that are in areas without access to broadband services. The Federal Communications Commission has a pilot program specifically dedicated to helping rural healthcare providers. Hospitals located in areas without broadband services can also contact local government officials.
Another key way CAHs can face many of the problems of implementing EHRs is through collaboration. Healthcare providers in West Virginia have been able to stay on the forefront of healthcare technology since the turn of the century by banding together to form the Community Health Network of West Virginia. Franklin, West Virginia’s Penddelton Community Care–one of 20 healthcare providers that is a part of the CHNWV–implemented EHR in 2008 with the rest of the members of the community. Considering the town of Franklin only has a population of 720, EHR implementation was an impressive feat.
Implementing EHRs is a practice that has shown to improve care and lower costs. Despite the many challenges that exist for rural healthcare providers, implementing EHRs and completing meaningful use attestation is possible.