Electronic Health Records


Rural health IT initiatives overshadowed by meaningful use

By Kyle Murphy, PhD

- The attention that meaningful use continues to garner since the announcement of the final rule for Stage 2 Meaningful Use is likely to downplay the significance of perhaps more meaningful initiatives aimed at improving American healthcare both far and wide. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Programs incentivizes the adoption of health information technology (IT) under the premise that these systems will ultimately enable providers to offer their patients high-quality care. However, the question remains: Who’s truly benefiting from the billions in incentives — vendors, providers, or patients?

One thing most of us who live in major cities take for granted is access, physical or technological. For the population of patients who live in geographically-remote areas or technologically-underserved regions, care is first and foremost a matter of getting in front of a doctor. In a sense, meaningful use is a first-world problem — that is, it is a privilege based on numerous of assumptions.

Rural health centers and patients face a variety of obstacles in the way of getting high-quality, let alone basic care. In lieu of highlighting efforts to bridge the knowledge gap in meaningful use, here’s a list of recent initiatives to lessen the digital divide in quality care:

On September 5, Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri announced that $262,000 would flow into the state as a result of a Rural Hospital Broadband Connection grant to strengthen its ongoing connectivity initiative, MoBroadbandNow. The new level of access will ensure that Missourians have nearly ten times the connectivity powering their rural health clinics, which will in turn connect them to major providers throughout the state. Not only will patients benefit from high-quality imaging, they will experience a quicker turnaround in the exchange and use of health information.

On September 6, the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) unveiled a new certification program for telemedicine to address physician shortages and lack of available appointments. With experts from the healthcare industry and government, the ATA will establish guidelines and best practices for telemedicine providers. The increase in telemedicine services should decrease costs associated with routine and urgent medical needs as well as expand the reach of providers and patients.

This morning, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) has revealed that the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has awarded UAB School of Medicine $5.25 million over 5 years to improve the recruitment and retention of healthcare professionals through the state. According the Kaleidoscope, Alabama ranks 49th in the country for primacy care access. Rural patients aren’t the only people who suffer from a lack of connectivity. Rural providers suffer from a lack of access to other physicians and resources, which reinforces isolation and makes these areas professionally unattractive.

Lastly, the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine has established a training program for community health providers known as CHERPs. According to West Virginia Public Broadcasting, the Community Education Resource Person (CHERP) program addresses the shortage of providers in rural counties in the state. The free program gives trainees the skills to educate rural residents about health prevention (e.g., nutrition) and therefore improve community health in remove areas.

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Related Articles: 

• Q&A with ATA CEO Jonathan Linkous
• Comments on rural healthcare and telemedicine
• How important is telemedicine to isolated communities?
Why can’t rural health clinics receive EHR Medicare incentives?
How can rural healthcare providers afford EHR?


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