Rural hospitals are facing down connectivity obstacles as they deploy telemedicine

New HIMSS Analytics research finds rural health systems give top priority to expanded patient access with telemedicine.
By Bill Siwicki
10:14 AM
telehealth in rural hospitals

Network reliability and availability of fiber-based services are key contributors to success at rural healthcare provider organizations adopting new care delivery models. And telemedicine is a driving force behind rural healthcare organizations getting better connected, according to new research from HIMSS Analytics.

“Telemedicine is absolutely driving connectivity within the rural communities we studied; the goal is to expand patient access to care providers,” said Bryan Fiekers, senior director of research services at HIMSS Analytics. “Several participants to the research indicated that without telemedicine, patients would have to be packed onto a bus and driven to specialists, sometimes driving for hours.”

This creates significant logistical challenges that telemedicine helps to overcome. One of the challenges the HIMSS Analytics research uncovered associated with the use of telemedicine today was latency or poor connection reliability. When a specialist is using a two-way video to explain a complicated diagnosis or detailed dosing regimen, it’s critical that patients can clearly hear and see that specialist.

As part of the research, rural healthcare provider executives were asked what clinical and/or technology-based initiatives would they consider a priority for their organization. Respondents could cite four. Telemedicine topped the list at 55.2 percent. Following telemedicine came security at 47.9 percent, business continuity/disaster recovery at 43.8 percent, physician satisfaction at 42.7 percent, patient satisfaction at 41.7 percent, population health management at 29.2 percent, clinical intelligence/analytics at 24.0 percent, patient portal at 17.7 percent, financial intelligence/analytics at 17.7 percent, mobile technology at 13.5 percent, patient education at 8.3 percent, and precision medicine at 2.1 percent.

Fiekers presents all the HIMSS Analytics research in detail in a free webinar entitled “The Impact of Connectivity on Rural Hospitals and the Promise it Holds.”

The major finding of the research is that there still is a tremendous amount of investment expected in healthcare, Fiekers said.

“Despite the amazing transformation that we have witnessed over the last 10 years, more is on the horizon,” he said. “As incentives change, new approaches to care are needed, much of which is dedicated to driving the Quadruple Aim of healthcare: Improved population health, improved satisfaction for providers and for patients, and reducing costs.”

Connectivity is at the core of this evolution for rural healthcare organizations as they look to expand access to patients to drive better outcomes, he added.

In many ways, connectivity now is considered a social determinant of health, meaning that access to reliable connectivity does play an important role in keeping patients healthy. The research showed the impact that access to care providers will have, but connectivity is more than that.

“Connectivity reinforces treatment strategies; streamlines communication; impacts patient satisfaction, which is linked to reimbursement from HCAHPS; improves accessibility to appropriate records for clinicians; the list goes on,” Fiekers said. “This research demonstrates the criticality of connectivity for today’s healthcare ecosystem, but even more so, tomorrow’s.”

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
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