Public Policy

Study: Rural Hospitals Behind IT Curve


Only a sliver of rural hospitals would meet the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) criteria to qualify for “meaningful use” of health information technology (HIT), according to a new study, but that could be a window for HM group leaders to take the reins of technology projects.

“[Hospitalists] could be very useful as a champion,” says Brock Slabach, MPH, FACHE, senior vice president for member services at the National Rural Health Association.

The new report showed that 5% of rural hospitals could demonstrate meaningful use of an electronic health record (EHR) system, as opposed to 9% of urban hospitals (J Rural Health. 2011;27(3):329-337). The number dips to 3% for critical-access hospitals. EHR usage often is used as a benchmark for HIT implementation.

CMS has allotted $20 billion for physicians and hospitals to adopt new technologies, but entities must prove they have met “meaningful use” requirements.

Slabach, who spent 20 years as an administrator at Field Memorial Community Hospital in Centreville, Miss., says the major hurdle for HIT implementation at rural hospitals is a lack of knowledge. But if hospitalists can show other physicians the value of HIT, others will follow, he adds.

“Somebody who may not have any informatics background, but is willing to grab a hold of the system, learn its applications, develop methods to spread the knowledge to the rest of the medical staff, is critical,” Slabach says. “It just takes that one or two [people] to get the momentum starting, in terms of a transition to what for a lot of middle-aged and older physicians is a completely new world.”

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