3. Connecting Rural Clinicians with a Larger Community of Specialists
Jennings notes that technology solutions enable providers to “share information with the right people who can intervene with the patient at the right time.” She gives an example of a stroke patient who seeks care at a rural outpatient clinic staffed by a general practitioner.
Rather than calling another hospital with a specialized stroke team and waiting for the operator to page the doctor, Jennings explains, “the clinician can use a CC&C platform to connect instantly with a stroke specialist at a larger facility.”
Thanks to telehealth technology, that specialist can give a visual assessment and advise the onsite providers while the patient is being prepared for transport. Telehealth also gives the stroke patient the opportunity for remote follow-up appointments.
“Traditionally, patients would be limited by the resources available within that one hospital or clinic,” Jennings adds. “Rural healthcare providers are not on their own. We’ve really been able to bring down those walls blocking access because of virtual care.”
READ MORE: Learn three benefits of clinical workflow solutions for rural healthcare.
4. Limited Funding Doesn’t Have to Burden Independent Hospitals
“People will have to think creatively in these rural environments about how they might pool resources,” Lahr explains. She says there are viable options for smaller organizations with limited budgets.
She imagines, for example, five 25-bed hospitals partnering to leverage technological tools. Lahr describes this type of arrangement as advantageous because “some of these tools require some amount of scale to make their ROI.”
Another option could come from the tech companies themselves. Lahr says she can envision telehealth and AI companies, for example, collaborating to offer interoperability between their services, giving rural hospitals the best of both solutions.
“We have more people to care for who are sicker, and we have less workforce to care for them,” Jennings points out. “There is a great opportunity to look at how things like automation, AI, virtual sitting, telehealth and CC&C enable you to maximize the staff that you do have.”
Technology solutions “allow people who live in rural communities to get more-advanced care closer to home,” Lahr says. She adds that she’s excited to see how AI can be used in the future to further move healthcare forward. “Providing specialty-level knowledge and decision support through AI tools to primary care physicians who remain willing to take care of communities in these environments, I think, is going to be really cool to see.”