Healthcare News & Insights

ONC want rural hospitals to adopt EHRs, achieve meaningful use

Federal officials recently announced plans to help rural and critical-access hospitals adopt EHRs and other health IT. 

Healthcare providers often lag in adopting electronic health records (EHRs) and other technology. Typically, those organizations don’t have the same funding available as others to purchase, install and support new IT systems.

On top of that, a recent study found that it costs even more for a rural hospital to implement an EHR system compared to facilities in urban and suburban areas. In fact, urban hospitals studied began saving money three years after switching to EHRs, while costs were still higher for rural facilities even six years after adoption.

The reasons: Rural hospitals didn’t have access to the same health IT employees and IT service organizations as those in other parts of the country, so the implementations cost more and often aren’t done as efficiently.

The end result: Those facilities are lagging behind others in adopting new health IT systems.

And unfortunately, rural hospitals, including those designated as critical access hospitals, are often most in need of the help health IT can provide, say Mat Kendall and Leila Samy of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC). Given the wide area those hospitals must cover and the distance patients may have to travel to see specialists, EHR systems, telemedicine tools and other health IT can help doctors provide top notch care in spite of those challenges.

In a recent blog post, Kendall and Samy announced the ONC’s goal of having 1,000 critical access hospitals and small, rural hospitals certified for meaningful use of EHRs by 2014. To help reach that goal, they said, ONC will provide up to $30 million for Regional Extension Centers that assist rural hospitals in health IT adoption.

However, Kendall and Samy said, other parties also have responsibilities of their own, if the goal is going to be met, including leadership at those hospitals.

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