Despite the budgetary and work force challenges rural hospitals face, they are making steady progress on health information technology adoption. Between 2009 and 2011 the rural provider EHR adoption rate more than doubled, and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT has set an ambitious goal of 1,000 rural hospitals becoming meaningful users of health IT by the end of 2014.
In a Nov. 19 webinar sponsored by the National eHealth Collaborative, Leila Samy, rural health IT coordinator at ONC, said, “To achieve this goal, we need all hands on deck, including greater public-private collaboration.” Shenoted that from 2009 to 2012, rural pharmacies actively prescribing medication electronically increased by 50 percent. She said the number of critical access hospitals and other rural hospitals working with Regional Extension Centers (RECs) and demonstrating meaningful use has grown from 111 in May 2012 to 409 in November.
To speed adoption and share best practices, ONC created the Rural Community of Practice (CoP) and has recruited and convened leaders with expertise to roll out pilot projects. Its 10 subcommittees track the key challenges rural hospitals face:
1. Tracking progress, needs and challenges
2. Hospital leadership tools
3. Adoption and MU roadmap and tools
4. Vendor issues: Pilot vendor-specific MU acceleration efforts
5. Workforce: Grow your own workforce!
6. Access to capital
7. Demonstrating quality improvement through health IT
8. Consumer engagement: The patient in the center and empowered!
Samy described two recent pilot projects. The first involves a partnership betweenRECs serving five states and Healthland, an EHR vendor dedicated to rural health, to identify best practices that can be scaled to other regions. The second offers custom training for rural hospital staff members.
Pitt Community College Consortium in North Carolina will develop and offer custom training based on the needs described by rural health care providers.
Other speakers during the webinar included Yael Harris from the Health Resources and Services Administration, Sally Buck from the National Rural Health Resource Center in Minnesota, Marcia Cheadle from Inland Northwest Health Services, and Wes Gipe, CEO of Agil IT.