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Overcoming IT Challenges for Community and Rural Hospitals

With Meaningful Use (MU) in full swing, healthcare organizations are fully involved in planning and completing their tasks to keep them moving down their MU roadmap. As of January 30, 2013, incentive payments top $10.6 billion dollars. With over 355,000 hospitals and eligible professionals with active CMS registrations, the community and rural based hospital is one segment of the healthcare industry that is severely underrepresented.

The backbone of our healthcare system is the smaller community and rural hospitals located in communities across our nation. The American Hospital Association totals the number of community hospitals at 4,973 with a total of 797,403 staff beds. These hospitals account for almost 35 million admissions. With that kind of impact on our healthcare system, the loss of any community hospital would have dire consequences on the country as a whole. If, however, these hospitals are not able to meet the MU deadlines, the Medicare and Medicaid penalties will cause them to close their doors.

In a Stoltenberg Consulting issue brief, Stoltenberg sat down with Char Wray, VP Clinical Operations and Information Systems/Chief Clinical and Information Officer for EMH Healthcare in Elyria, Ohio to get a CIO'S perspective on this issue. During that conversation, Char examined the issues facing community hospitals. One of the greatest issues is how MU payments are structured. "The way MU payments are structured, a hospital needs to make an investment upfront before it receives any reimbursement." It is because of this upfront investment that many community hospitals have not been able to embark on their MU journey and start moving toward attestation. Another large obstacle is that community hospitals typically do not have large IT staff in place to handle such a project. One of the often missed obstacles that can bring a community hospital to its knees actually occurs after they successfully implement their new EMR to start their MU attestation- the issue of providing their physician and end users the 24x7x365 support they need to utilize their new EMR so the organization can achieve their required numerics for submitting to CMS. Due to the small IT staff, these issues becomes a costly scenario preventing their ability to meet MU unless the organization can partner with out-of-the solutions that meets their needs but fit within their budgetary constraints.

Providing insight on where smaller hospitals are finding help, Fred Bazzoli, Senior Director of Communications for the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) explained, "CHIME sees the need to reach out to rural and community hospitals in a really pointed way. These smaller hospitals have to put aside competitive differences and stay in contact with each other to facilitate information transfer." Bazzoli also feels it is important for smaller hospitals to seek out experts in the industry who have experience implementing the required systems. Stoltenberg shares that view and that passion. Providing that out-of-the box solution is essential to ensuring the future of our community and rural hospitals. This passion will be a large focus of ours at the upcoming HIMSS13 conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. Ensuring the success of our community hospitals directly impacts our individual health and we must do everything as an industry to guarantee their future.