Posted on February 24, 2015
The rural healthcare system has changed dramatically over the past decade due to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. However, overall resources still remain relatively inadequate. Many rural hospitals continue to experience shortages of physicians, reimbursements, financial strains and new information technology requirements. In fact, nearly 50 rural hospitals have closed their doors since 2010. But is it all doom and gloom? Not if we stay ahead of these three trends:
TREND 1: Telemedicine, EMR and digital clinics
We have to embrace technology. We can no longer deny it, especially since telemedicine - the use of telecommunications technologies to support long distance healthcare - has become more common and isn't going away. It helps tackle the problem of physician shortages by connecting patients and providers over long distances, as well as increasing your patients' access to specialty care.
Telemedicine is also a great use for extended therapy; patients can do sessions from their home, using video game consoles and telecommunications with therapists, hopefully saving more money than they would if they went into clinics.
Electronic medical records were mandated by a 2009 federal law, but many rural hospitals have still not gotten on board. Electronic medical and health records are not only easier to organize and understand, but they also allow different doctors' offices and clinics to collaborate on patients' care and better understand their patients' medical histories, especially those with chronic illness. Not to mention, this kind of technology helps rural hospitals attract more physicians.
A third digital trend is the digital health clinic, which increases access to care while reducing costs. This allows patients in rural areas who don't have access to specialists, or those who can't leave their home, to get the treatment or advice they need.
TREND 2: Prevention, education and outcomes
Generally speaking, rural hospitals care for an older, sicker, less educated, less-affluent and more overweight population. That can pose many challenges when it comes to the shift of reimbursements from fee-for-service toward pay-per-performance.
As healthcare becomes increasingly outcome-based, evidence and definitions for high-quality outcomes will be in high demand. We'll also see pressure to deliver better outcomes at lower cost. Rural healthcare providers must acknowledge and confront this challenge by emphasizing prevention.
TREND 3: Mergers, acquisitions and collaborations
We're seeing this across the board in Wisconsin. And the strategy for many of the mergers and partnerships is to negotiate now, from a position of strength, rather than waiting for market pressures to force a move. In order for rural hospitals to survive in the changing climate, we must focus on the development of innovative delivery models that promote integrated, quality healthcare within budgetary constraints. Resource sharing, integration, and joint venture arrangements with regional partners can yield benefits without surrendering independence.
What can you do today to stay on top of the trends?
1. Keep track of market share to determine how many patients are leaving town for care.
2. Use surveys and/or focus groups to understand your weaknesses so you can improve your community perception.
3. Develop messaging strategies based on your strengths.
Want to discuss any of these trends in more detail? Send me an email or give me a call at 920-544-8102.