Jun 15 2022
Patient-Centered Care

3 Ways Independent Hospitals Can Improve Quality of Care with IT Investments

Investments in virtual care solutions can help rural, independent and community hospitals address staffing shortages, patient access to care and budget concerns.

Digital health tools are transforming patient care across the country, but especially in rural, independent and community hospitals. These healthcare organizations face unique challenges that require careful consideration of health IT investments.

While staffing shortages impact healthcare organizations across the board, independent hospitals face shortages that can limit the specialty services these hospitals offer to patients.

Another challenge for rural hospitals is access to care. It can be difficult for patients in remote areas to get to providers, leading many patients to wait until their health concerns are more serious to seek treatment. On the other hand, with a lower patient population, some physicians may be underutilized. Technology can help rural healthcare organizations balance the load.

Low population densities can also lead to high relative operating costs for community hospitals and rural health centers, creating another major challenge for these organizations. Technology investments can mitigate this.

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Here are three ways investments can help rural healthcare organizations improve patient care quality.

1. Telehealth Solutions Solve Staff Shortages in Healthcare

According to a report from the Association of American Medical Colleges, a shortage of 17,800 to 48,000 primary care physicians is projected by 2034, in addition to a shortage of 21,000 to 77,100 specialty physicians. The ongoing clinician shortage makes it especially important for rural healthcare organizations to use their IT investments wisely to set up physicians, nurses and support staff for success.

Telehealth solutions can help rural healthcare providers augment their offerings by filling care gaps with nonlocal specialists. By leveraging virtual care, providers can expand their geographic ranges for recruiting clinical staff. Underutilized local physicians can also see patients from a larger geographical area to increase their patient loads, making these hospitals more efficient.

2. Digital-First Strategies Improve Patient Access to Care

Scheduling an in-person doctor’s visit isn’t always straightforward. Some specialists may not have availability for two or three months, and some patients may live far from a doctor’s office. Telehealth can reduce those challenges by meeting patients where they are and, in many cases, allow patients to be seen sooner.

Asynchronous telehealth is another way to reduce the amount of time patients spend waiting to connect with their care providers. This could include patients sending photos or videos to their doctors via a patient portal; this can speed the diagnostic process and reduce the amount of time it takes to see specialists.

Asynchronous telehealth also can improve physician efficiency, allowing doctors to connect with more patients per day without adding a significant time burden. The outcome is reduced patient wait times and a better experience for patients and clinicians. However, Medicaid and Medicare coverage for asynchronous telehealth by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is on a state-by-state basis.

RELATED: Discover how digital-first strategies are shaping healthcare.

3. Virtual Care Solutions Lead to Better Financial Outlooks in Healthcare

Ninety percent of healthcare spending is used to treat chronic conditions, which are on the rise in the U.S. Nonmetropolitan areas often have a higher prevalence of patients with chronic conditions compared to metropolitan areas, due in part to less care accessibility. In addition, high relative operating costs exacerbate these organizations’ financial concerns. However, there are less expensive and more efficient ways to care for patients.

Remote patient monitoring enables providers to better care for patients with chronic conditions by offering continuous monitoring, which can increase patient engagement and reduce care costs over time. Hospitals can give patients wearable weight scales, pulse oximeters, blood pressure cuffs or heart monitors to take home with them. Clinicians can then receive regular updates on a patient’s biometrics and intervene when necessary to prevent disease escalation. RPM devices and telehealth appointments can expand care access without a patient having to travel to in-person visits as often.

DISCOVER: How virtual care expands patient access and engagement in pediatrics.

Care solutions such as telehealth, asynchronous medicine and RPM move the patient from episodic care to continuous care and help the care team get ahead of health issues rather than reacting to them. Easier access to care also encourages patients to seek care sooner, rather than waiting until their conditions worsen.

These technology deployments can ultimately lead to improved patient engagement, patient outcomes and clinician efficiency in addition to better cost optimization, cost containment and operational efficiencies.

How to Fund IT Investments for Rural Healthcare Organizations

The U.S. Census Bureau has changed the definition of an urban area. As a result, more than 1,300 communities that were previously considered urban will be reclassified as rural by the federal government. Hospitals and healthcare organizations in those communities will now have access to additional federal grants, with some tied to telehealth, networking and security. More information about available federal grants and programs is available on the Health Resources & Services Administration website.

CDW can help rural healthcare organizations solve IT challenges while keeping expanded networks secure. For more information, contact your account representative or call (800) 800-4239.

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



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