Rural hospitals face physician recruitment, telemedicine challenges

Rural hospitals around the country face many difficulties, but there are also many opportunities to grow from those challenges, Jeffrey Drop, senior vice president and division executive officer for the Fargo, North Dakota division of Catholic Health Initiatives, said in a recent interview with Becker's Hospital Review.

Drop oversees 12 of the 24 critical access hospitals in the system, facing issues like physician recruitment, telemedicine use and providing care to such a large geographic area in North Dakota and Minnesota, according to the article.

Although small towns often have the attitude to host thriving hospitals, they often don't have the resources, which makes partnerships with larger entities like Catholic Health Initiatives a lifeline when it comes to investing in costly health IT projects, Drop said. Hospitals can still keep their identity and autonomy by reaching out for resources through affiliations.

Telemedicine is a growing option for rural healthcare facilities to help patients, but regulatory issues can impede that treatment. Drop said the country must embrace telemedicine and make it easier to provide virtual health services, as opposed to making it harder.

As in many rural facilities in the U.S. recruiting physicians is always a challenge. To handle the task of bringing physicians into the rural healthcare setting, the Fargo division hired a full-time recruiter to specifically find doctors who meet the hospitals' profiles and want the small-town atmosphere, Drop said.

In upstate New York, legislators are working on laws that will address a growing shortage of primary care doctors in the region, although as of now, legislation makes no provision to require doctors to practice in rural or underserved areas, the Olean Times Herald reported.

Educators and healthcare officials in Idaho, where the number of physicians and nurses is below the national average and the lowest rate of students entering medical school, recently met to discuss options to fill the care gaps in rural communities, according to KLEW TV.

The goal of rural healthcare organizations is to make hospitals a community resource that provide patients with access to care, he said. "Whatever it takes, we want to provide the appropriate level of care. If we can accomplish that, we're doing service to all of our little towns," Drop told Becker's.

To learn more:
- here's Drop's interview with Becker's
- read the Times Herald article
- check out the KLEW TV story