Viewpoint: 3 ways health IT may improve rural healthcare

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Allison Suttle, MD, CMO of Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Sanford Health, detailed how the rural health system uses technology to overcome geographic challenges in an Oct. 18 op-ed for Harvard Business Review.

"Providing healthcare in rural regions presents unique challenges," she wrote, noting how rural areas tend to attract fewer specialists than urban regions and how distance sometimes hinders care coordination among healthcare facilities.

Here are three health IT initiatives Sanford Health uses to improve healthcare delivery.

1. A single, integrated EMR platform. Sanford Health rolled out an integrated EMR to 45 of its hospitals and 300-plus clinics, each of which is programmed with uniform treatment guidelines. The single EMR not only improves care coordination, but also enables officials to distribute clinical decision support tools across the entire network.

2. Telemedicine programs. Through a set of telemedicine programs, Sanford Health specialists are able to remotely connect with patients and physicians at critical-access hospitals that might lack specialist expertise. Although insurers may not reimburse for all telemedicine consults, Sanford Health officials believe patients are willing to pay for the convenience and timeliness of care.

"Many of our patients who live remotely must take significant time off work to come to our clinic locations," Dr. Suttle wrote. "We think many patients would rather pay $49 for a video visit for, say, a diabetes follow-up than be away from work or home for several hours to make the visit in person."

3. Data transparency initiatives. Primary care physicians at Sanford Health measure and report quality data using metrics available through the Minnesota Community Measurement. "Any provider can see any other provider's data," Dr. Suttle wrote, adding transparent data helps officials identify best practices between regions. "The resulting peer pressure inspires everyone to do their best work."

To access the full article, click here.

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