A recent study by the University of Missouri showed our rural nursing homes lag behind urban nursing homes significantly with information technology. With rural areas struggling with their IT, our most vulnerable senior citizens could suffer from reduced care in those markets.
According to researchers in a recent UPI article, the gap in information technology could have serious implications for patient care because rural nursing homes would have less capacity to share information with hospitals to allow high-quality transitions in care. The study showed metropolitan areas with superior IT laboratory capabilities for resident admission, as well as a more sophisticated way to verify medical tests than their rural counterparts.
In a piece written by a rural health information site, health information technology has a tremendous opportunity to improve quality, safety and effectiveness in rural communities.
However, finding a way to implement, maintain and optimize health information technology can be a challenge for rural facilities and providers operating with limited resources. Health IT includes using technology to store, protect and retrieve information within a health and community setting. Some of the elements include:
- Electronic health records for patients, instead of paper records
- Secure electronic networks to deliver up-to-date records whenever and wherever the patient or clinician may need them
- Electronic transmittal of medical test results
- Telehealth applications to enhance access to providers
- Confidential and secure access for consumers to their personal health information online
- Electronic communication between healthcare providers, as well as patients and community caregivers
- Electronic prescribing of medications and medical tests to help avoid medical errors
- Decision support systems to provide clinicians with information on best practices and treatment options to improve quality of care
- Mobile devices to make information available at the point of care
As state legislators reconvene for their 2017 legislative session, they should think about innovative ways to help improve the information technology shortcomings in our rural areas and consider investing their precious resources in these communities. According to a McKnights Long Term Care article, the University of Missouri research team leader, Gregory Alexander said, “Policy makers need to be aware of the unique challenges facing rural health and provide the necessary incentives to help rural nursing homes improve their IT sophistication.”
With over 10,000 Americans turning 65 daily, the long term care needs of our senior citizens are plentiful and growing at a rapid pace. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate there are more than 1 million Americans depending on 16,000 nursing homes for their health care.
Regardless of how we get there, we have too many senior citizens depending on improvements in our health information technology to just sit idle. It is time for policy makers to focus on improving our rural health IT, and by doing so, we will have better patient outcomes as well as improved quality of life for our nursing home residents.