In part one of Post-COVID Rural Healthcare Outlook with Alan Morgan, CEO of NRHA, our discussion centered on two of the four issues Morgan believes must be addressed as priorities—strengthening the rural healthcare workforce and a revising payment model.
Morgan also shared how both the pandemic and subsequent CARES Act shined a spotlight on the rural hospital’s essential role as an anchor point for sustainability and growth in America’s rural communities. However, he also adds that the pathway forward still presents challenges, both old and new.
This second portion of this series will cover the final two issues—vaccinating the rural healthcare workforce and improving rural healthcare technology infrastructures.
The most recent data shows that rural areas are lagging far behind their urban counterparts when it comes to vaccination rates.
“In the effort to keep rural communities healthy, the first area of focus concerning vaccination in a rural context must be rural healthcare workers”, states Morgan. The issue of rural healthcare worker vaccination is important for two reasons.
Rural areas already struggling with healthcare workforce shortages cannot afford to be further saddled by contagious physicians and nurses, too ill to practice. And, the need to vaccinate rural healthcare professionals becomes even more apparent now that CMS is moving “full-steam ahead” on making COVID-19 vaccination rates among healthcare professionals a quality measure.
The global pandemic brought to the forefront the importance of collecting and sharing healthcare data. However, it was often noted that during the pandemic the increased movement of healthcare data between local, state, and federal levels revealed troubling gaps in these exchanges.
The pandemic also spurred forward the rise of telehealth. However, a disparity in the availability of high-speed internet between rural and urban areas once again left the rural population on the outside looking in.
Partnering with technology vendors to plug these gaps, both on a local and federal level must be a priority for providers across the country says, Morgan.
Currently, NRHA is in discussion with the CDC on ways vaccination rates can be traced to a locality and tied to other data points like COVID-19 case hospitalizations, mortality rates, and percentages of positive cases. All these data points collected and merged would give a clear indication of trouble spots, enabling hospitals and officials to coordinate with rural communities on how to best address emerging problems.
Investing in better technology infrastructures for rural regions as well as improving upon current healthcare date exchanges also have implications that reach far beyond the pandemic. Access to better data, along with more convenient healthcare options can help form a clearer understanding of what is happening in healthcare while driving positive clinical outcomes.
While the expansion of rural technology infrastructures is a larger issue with many moving parts, improving interoperability and empowering rural healthcare providers with better data relies on the effective development of front-end hospital systems. It is up to healthcare information technology leaders like MEDHOST to help their partners simplify the collection, analysis, and sharing of data to improve care across the continuum and across the nation.
“As we approach the end of an era clouded by COVID-19, we need to continue to build on rural healthcare’s momentum,” says Morgan. “To do this we need strong leadership with a clear understanding of the vital role rural hospitals play. That is leadership within healthcare, our rural communities, and our government.”
MEDHOST is proud to partner with NRHA and do their part in helping ensure the viability of healthcare in rural America. To learn more about the various ways MEDHOST helps address challenges in both the rural and community hospital settings, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1.800.383.6278.