ONC: Rural communities working to adopt health IT need more financial support

Providers in rural areas are working to incorporate health IT into their practices in order to improve patient care, but could use more financial support, according to a new blog post from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.

The post, by Leila Samy, ONC's rural health IT coordinator, reported that the agency is aiding a number of initiatives to help poor and rural communities locate financing and facilitate broadband connectivity. It's also leveraging health IT and the Blue Button portal project to improve care coordination for veterans in rural areas.

For instance, Samy said that she reached out to rural communities in the Delta and Appalachian regions of Tennessee and Kentucky to meet with rural providers and staff. The goal is to help them with federal, state and local financial assistance for health information exchange, telehealth and broadband connectivity, which is more difficult to attain in rural areas.  She also traveled to a "frontier" community in North West Montana which is facing similar problems.

There, several providers were working to link Department of Veterans Affairs providers and private providers to better coordination care using health IT. For instance, one physician in Kalispell, Montana, has been helping the 1,200 veterans he sees use the VA's MyHealtheVet, the Blue Button portal, to communicate with their providers; about 100 to 150 of the veterans have signed up to use the portal.

"In the past, federal assistance programs focused on building essential brick-and-mortar infrastructure," Samy said. "Now, key infrastructure includes health IT, health information exchange and broadband access. Rural hospitals and doctors around the country often must find a way to invest in software and broadband connectivity that is essential for moving and using human- and machine-readable health records."

EHR implementation in rural areas has long been a concern for ONC; its regional extension centers have focused much of their attention on helping smaller physician practices and those in rural areas adopt and meaningfully use EHRs.  EHR adoption is now growing in rural practices, reversing a trend. However, physician practices with fewer resources may have trouble maintaining their EHR systems and progressing further with health IT.  

To learn more:
- read the blog post