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Rural hospitals are struggling, but they can be helped | Healthy Bottom Line

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In the latest episode of our podcast, Jay Anders of Medicomp Systems talks about the difficulties facing these critical providers, and how technology can make a difference.

Rural hospitals don’t get the attention they should, Jay Anders says.

Image: CHE

Dr. Jay Anders, chief medical officer for Medicomp Systems, talks about rural hospitals, their challenges and potential remedies on the latest episode of the Healthy Bottom Line podcast, presented by Chief Healthcare Executive.

“In healthcare as well as healthcare IT, they tend to be overlooked,” Anders says. “And they really have not well understood the challenges that they have, and I'm talking about both providers and patients and their access to health care. I mean, it's kind of a struggle across the board.”

Anders, MD, chief medical officer for Medicomp Systems, talked about the difficulties of rural hospitals in the latest episode of the Healthy Bottom Line podcast, presented by Chief Healthcare Executive®.

Half of America’s rural hospitals are losing money. While rural providers have struggled for years, their challenges have been exacerbated since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many specialty care options aren’t available for those who live in rural communities. He says the increasing consolidation in the hospital industry has helped ensure some rural hospitals stay afloat, but some services are concentrated in cities or larger suburbs.

“Looking at it from just a patient care standpoint, when that happens, a lot of the more specialized care that has been provided more rurally, starts to move more centrally into larger cities. And that could be 90 minutes away, could be two hours away. And if you look at how patients' families are involved in patient care, it puts a real burden on a family when when a loved one is in a hospital, it's a 90-minutes drive to go see them and be with them,” Anders says.

Many rural hospitals struggle to attract physicians and other critical workers.

“Then there's the whole idea of staffing the hospital, in and of itself,” he says. “There's a great shortage of primary care physicians. And that's the largest number of physicians in rural areas, for primary care. Specialty care really isn't available a lot in the rural setting. So it makes it more difficult to get that care.”

Some rural hospitals have curtailed some of their services, such as labor and delivery. Anders notes that he grew up in a small Illinois town with two hospitals, and now only one hospital remains, with fewer services.

Anders talks about the ways technology can help fill some gaps for rural hospitals.

“One of the things that COVID taught us, and it's a good lesson that we've learned, is there's a lot of care that can be done in the telehealth mode, meaning you can be remote, but present,” Anders says.

Some rural hospitals utilize “virtual ICU rooms,” he notes.

“There's cameras all over the room, all the monitoring equipment is set up. And you have qualified nurses on staff, but the critical care doc that is monitoring the care is actually remote,” he says.

Anders also talks about cost and usability for healthcare IT in rural hospitals, and says there needs to be a greater focus on tailoring solutions for the realities of smaller providers. When some rural hospitals are acquired by larger health systems, the larger system installs more sophisticated technology, which sounds helpful but can pose headaches, Anders says.

“You've now got a system that's got more technology, but unusable, because it's not built for that rural setting. The good news is that there are companies starting to focus on this market, that are starting to develop systems that are of lower cost but high function, meaning they provide all the services that one needs to practice in a rural setting, but not at that massive cost,” Anders says.

In a wide-ranging discussion, Anders also addresses the need to attract more doctors to local areas, the potential and challenges of bringing AI solutions to rural hospitals, and other steps to sustain and improve care in rural communities.

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