EHRs and Rural Hospitals: Simpler is Better

One of the many health care-related challenges that Americans living in rural areas face is the staggering rate of hospital closures in recent years. Since 2010, 26 states have seen the closure of at least one rural hospital; put differently, the facilities have been closing at a rate of approximately one per month, leaving patients adrift and having to seek care elsewhere. But as highlighted in a recent Healthcare IT News investigation, the modernization and streamlining of electronic health record (EHR) systems has gone a long way toward helping some small rural hospitals better manage their workload—thus increasing the odds of their survival. As the publication put it, “Make the [EHR] system simplified and more automated, and now these rural hospitals have got a fighting chance.”

Healthcare IT News examined some of the steps that individual hospitals have taken to modernize EHRs. Rawlins Health Center, for example, located in rural Kansas, sought to combine and consolidate existing records systems to bring themselves into compliance with meaningful use requirements. “With the legacy system we had, not all of our meaningful use data could be collected within one system,” the hospital’s information systems director, Destiny Schroeder, explained. Since working with athenahealth to create a new system, “We’ve seen a huge difference,” she told Healthcare IT News. Others have focused on taking the burden of performing administrative tasks off providers by automating workflows. Overall, hospitals have seen positive results from their system overhauls; South Dakota’s Coteau des Prairies, for example, “has seen a 20 percent reduction in cost, and a 20 percent increase in revenue.”

As we’ve previously reported, many rural hospitals in recent years have struggled to meet meaningful use requirements. The results of a study published over the summer in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association (JAMIA), for example, led some advocates to worry about a “digital divide” between hospitals that are using EHRs in advanced ways and those that are not. The authors of that study, led by the University of Michigan’s Julia Adler-Milstein, found that some hospitals—particularly those that serve rural and low-income patients—are not fully utilizing the record systems. And over on Capitol Hill, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) introduced legislation that would help to relax meaningful use standards. Specifically, the bill would give the HHS Secretary more flexibility in setting those standards, and would thus help HHS staff to save time and resources that would ordinarily be spent on hardship waiver-request processing. That legislation passed the House Committee on Energy and Commerce by voice vote.

Click here to read the Healthcare IT News article on simplified EHRs in rural hospitals.

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