Rural Hospitals caught in a Catch 22

There’s a great article about a frustrating (yet common) problem in the Washington Post (Rural hospital hinging future on federal incentive). The super condensed version is that electronic medical records (EMR) will help save money and reduce errors. Electronic records play heavily into federal plans to improve health care. By 2015, health care facilities are expected to be using EMR. Unfortunately moving to EMR costs a chunk of change that most small and/or rural health care facilities don’t have. They need upgrades in equipment, broadband and more.

I blogged late last month about a white paper that outlined the specific advantages and barriers to EMR – and all e-health applications in small/rural facilities. The Washington Post article puts a face on the need with their story. There’s another recent article in the Minnesota Independent that talks about a successful online support group for rural women with mental health issues. The program is going well where people can access broadband.

I remember dealing with this in the libraries when government documents moved from paper to electronic media– it’s great for the government to come up with cost savings programs – but often taking away one infrastructure means building a new one!

Back to medical records … In Minnesota there has been a strong push towards EMR with the Minnesota Telehealth Network – but it too is running into trouble. It’s worked very well but the funding runs out August 31, 2009. (They have an application in for an extension – but so far no word.)

There is some federal funding available – but I think many readers who have been watching the NTIA/RUS funding are learning – it’s not easy to get federal funding. One of the big issues with the health care chunk of money is that to qualify you need to have equipment and trained staff – but the government has not been specific enough yet on what equipment and what training to help people who are making the difficult decisions make informed decisions.

If you’re a small, rural hospital what do you do? Prepare and risk being prepared for the wrong specifications? Try to get other money in today’s economy? Or keep plugging along knowing that you aren’t prepared?

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