What issues are rural hospitals facing and how can technology solve them?

Rural hospitals, while essential to the fabric of healthcare in remote regions, are grappling with multifaceted challenges that threaten their operational sustainability. Their financial tightropes, exacerbated by dwindling reimbursements, are further strained by the infrastructural needs of modern medical care. The glaring issue of staffing shortages, especially in specialized fields, further exacerbates the healthcare disparity between rural and urban settings.

“Absolutely rural hospitals are falling behind. The majority of tech solutions being sold into healthcare are expensive; often too expensive for most rural hospitals. Rural hospitals are financially struggling on a good day. It’s why I’m working hard to build a software solution that is affordably priced for all sizes, and I hope to see more healthtech companies strive to do the same,” shares Sarah M. Worthy, CEO of DoorSpace.

Technology is as much a disruptor as it is a savior. One of the most potent game-changers in our arsenal is telemedicine. It’s not merely about video consultations; it’s about reimagining healthcare delivery. By leveraging high-speed connectivity and specialized platforms, telemedicine can extend specialist care to the remotest of locations, ensuring continuity of care while enhancing rural hospitals’ revenue potential.

The implementation of Electronic Health Records (EHRs) is not just a digital shift but a transformative process. EHRs do more than just digitize patient data; they facilitate interoperability, streamline clinical workflows, and enable data-driven decisions, thus elevating the standard of care even in resource-limited settings. However, they are far from perfect or ideal solutions on their own.

“EHRs are the most discussed example. The idea behind EHRs is fantastic but the execution was unimaginative and based purely on the financial side of healthcare. Instead of getting a portable health record that each patient controls and can easily share with their healthcare providers as they move through their life, we have inadvertently added several hours to the workday for doctors and nurses, medical errors and costs have never been higher, and everyone who works in healthcare is miserable except for insurance companies. Ultimately, a burden is being placed on the individual clinician’s back to the detriment of everyone else, including the patient,” says Worthy.

Other solutions include IoMT, AI and ML technology, specifically on the backend, cloud technologies and other methods that allow technology to be leveraged in an affordable and easy to adapt way. Innovation will be key at not only allowing hospitals to move forward in rural areas, but also attract talent. Telehealth is another area rural hospitals can better connect with patients and providers 

“Where rural hospitals are more in need of innovation is in finding ways to ensure consistent quality of care across a variety of specialties and they struggle with recruiting younger doctors and nurses who bring a fresh perspective while treating a patient population that is spread out and sometimes an hour or more away from care. The technologies that most will help rural hospitals are the types that help network and connect these healthcare communities with their patients and healthcare educators. Telehealth is one example. What we’re doing at DoorSpace to help them build talent networks and find specialists more easily is another example,” Worthy explains.

Ultimately, there are concrete solutions that hospitals in rural areas can implement and need to implement in order to retain physicians and healthcare workers and treat patients. Sarah M. Worthy explains that healthcare leaders need to understand and invest in technology that is fiscally and operationally responsible for all parties.

Healthcare needs leaders who understand how to use digital technologies to do things differently than how things have always been. Organizations are falling behind, especially at the leadership level, in understanding and investing in technology. Great enterprise software should be able to both support financial goals for the business and be easy to use by the employees. Most healthcare leaders don’t have the experience of working with great enterprise software, so they settle for poor user experiences, lack of interoperability, and unimaginative software, and then the clinicians are often the ones who have to use bad software.”

The challenges rural hospitals confront are undeniably daunting. However, with the right technological interventions and strategic implementations, these challenges aren’t insurmountable. As the confluence of healthcare and technology deepens, the horizon for rural healthcare looks promisingly transformative.

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