Mar 16 2021

Meeting the Challenges of Rural Hospitals

How smaller hospitals can deploy the technology they need without adding to the burden of their IT staff.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic threw the entire healthcare industry — in fact, the whole country — into an unprecedented situation, rural hospitals faced some serious challenges.

In many cases, these hospitals occupy a unique position in their communities. They are often the largest employer in the community, as well as the primary healthcare provider. Further, rural communities represent 20 percent of the U.S. population, establishing smaller hospitals as a very important part of the industry.

But many of these hospitals may not have a CIO or a large IT staff, making it a challenge for them to quickly replicate newer technologies being used within larger health systems.

Additionally, these organizations face economic challenges that may further constrain their investments in emerging technology solutions and services. This lack of resources can create additional IT challenges, requiring smaller hospitals to figure out how to do more with less.

LEARN MORE: See how CDW can help rural healthcare organizations solve their IT challenges.

The Impact of Security Threats on Rural Hospitals

Earlier during the pandemic, a rural hospital became the victim of a ransomware attack. The effects were felt across the organization, from patient registration to the inpatient pharmacy. A larger hospital might have had defenses in place that would have prevented such a widespread impact, but this situation required an updated security solution to mitigate the problem.

Efforts to improve security are important at every hospital, but getting help from a third party is often essential in rural communities challenged by a lack of access to necessary IT resources. Many smaller providers take advantage of Security Operations as a Service, in which a third-party partner provides a variety of security functions, such as endpoint security, threat detection and response, vulnerability scanning, infrastructure and application monitoring, and oversight of a security information and event management system.

Improving Communication with Clinical Mobility

Communication issues are a challenge for many hospitals, but the circumstances at many community and rural hospitals exacerbates this situation. In some cases, small hospitals may not have uniform systems for communication, so they’ll use whatever solutions are readily available, including personal devices. This establishes a fragmented communication environment that can falter at critical moments, possibly compromising patient care and creating a security challenge.

RELATED: Here's how the pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation in healthcare. 

A clinical mobility assessment can help smaller hospitals address this issue by bringing clinical and IT teams together to break down silos and improve communication. These improvements include better communication among caregivers through text and voice, and enable broadcast messaging to specific groups or an entire organization. Improvements in clinical communication can also enhance the connection between caregivers and patients and even employ solutions such as smart assistant voice recognition platforms. Additionally, clinical communication and collaboration systems can integrate communication from nurse call alerts directly to a nurse’s smart phone.

By unifying on a single platform, clinicians can communicate more effectively within their roles, reduce the workload for nurses and promote better patient outcomes.

Reducing the Burden on Hospital IT Staff

Ultimately, the value of having a true partner to handle some of a rural hospital’s IT challenges lies in reducing the demands placed on the IT team, while shrinking costs and optimizing IT investments.

Managed services present a valuable opportunity to achieve this. Among the managed services rural hospitals can take advantage of are collaboration services that can extend work phone numbers to other devices, such as a clinician’s mobile phone. This allows the organization to provide care on the go while maintaining the security of patient data. A managed services provider can also help hospitals optimize their communication budgets through comprehensive telecom expense and audit management. This can help healthcare organizations find savings in their communication expenses while reducing the time spent reviewing invoices and approving payments.

READ MORE: These five steps will help improve healthcare security. 

Using the “Hospital in a Box” concept, healthcare organizations can quickly address a large influx of patients and securely manage the flow of patient data, a common challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hospital in a Box enables rural providers to quickly set up temporary networks — for example, inside a tent that’s providing space for patient overflow — allowing personnel to access hospital IT and diagnostic imaging systems while maintaining compliance with regulations such as HIPAA.

Healthcare organizations are in the midst of an unpredictable economic outlook. As a leading provider of healthcare technology and solutions, CDW is committed to helping smaller rural healthcare providers optimize their IT investments so that they can meet increasing patient demand, increase quality of care and optimize their costs.

This article is part of HealthTech’s MonITor blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using #WellnessIT.

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