Rural Hospitals Can Overcome Challenges by Extending Reach into Communities They Serve

In order to stay viable in an extremely competitive healthcare market, community hospitals have to change their traditional way of doing business and embrace innovation and collaboration like never before. This can be difficult for some rural healthcare providers, who don’t have the same resources and budget as neighboring larger institutions.

In today’s rural healthcare market, it’s time to think beyond the confines of yesterday’s way of doing business and embrace emerging technology, develop unique partnerships, and incorporate more agility into the business model.

While this means a financial investment will need to be made, in the current healthcare climate, the temporary impact to the budget will be worth it in the long term. By thinking strategically, planning smart moves consistent with business goals, and considering how the bigger picture can affect the bottom line, a community hospital can make significant strides. Sensible enhancements implemented now, from new marketing ideas to more personalized technology, can be some initial steps.

Develop Unique Partnerships

Instead of continuing to lose money on unnecessary ER visits, one hospital in rural Minnesota forged some interesting relationships that led to dramatic changes in their bottom line. Thinking outside the box, they formed relationships with senior centers, the public health department, and universities to form a community-wide support system.

Sometimes things that don’t have an obvious, immediate ROI can still be productive in the long run. Programs like this one are producing astonishing results.

In addition to building symbiotic relationships within the community, rural healthcare providers also are joining hands with each other by forming Accountable Care Organizations and leveraging technology by implementing telehealth, which brings specialists from outside the community to the local patient base.

Technology such as YourCareEverywhere® is a great example of how a hospital can become more proactive about helping its consumers keep informed and be engaged in the process of staying healthy. YourCareEverywhere provides consumers access to daily updated health news and editorial content, wellness tools such as consumer health device integration, and a Meaningful Use-certified, clinically-integrated mobile app. Additionally, YourCareEverywhere’s Wellness Dashboard facilitates a one-stop shop for important healthcare information and the ability to link to any patient portal.

Jefferson Community Health & Life, a small critical access hospital in Fairbury, Nebraska, implemented MEDHOST’s patient engagement solution and portal technology in early 2017 and reported a 285 percent increase in patient engagement.

Become a Community Partner

Among the many partnerships that can be beneficial to a rural hospital, quite possibly the most important is a partnership with the surrounding community. Now more than ever, more rural hospitals have to make an effort to make themselves known.

Greg Charleston, Senior Managing Director of financial advisory firm Conway MacKenzie, and leader of its Healthcare Advisory Services Group, says as health systems become larger, more sophisticated and more competitive, community hospitals can be left with only emergency and urgent care business if they aren’t careful.

“The larger systems are using marketing, technology, economies of scale, and other methods to deliver better services less expensively,” he said in a recent Becker’s Hospital CFO Report.

Thus, community hospitals have to go beyond providing healthcare in order to avoid patient outmigration to larger systems. Community hospitals can’t assume patients will come to them anymore, the CFO Report stated. Patients will leave their community for care when the local hospital is disenfranchised with its market.

Partnerships can also be made through technology designed to empower healthcare systems to broaden their reach into the community, which enables more patients to leverage those tools and information to better manage their own health.

Increase EHR Efficiencies

Rural hospitals are striving for better health for populations, better outcomes for patients, and finding a way to do it all at a lower cost. Despite the large number of community hospitals closing their doors, there are community hospitals finding a way to excel. The common denominator among all of them is some innovative thinking and focus on improving efficiencies.

Reducing leakage and developing a solid referral base is one way to ensure your business doesn’t end up going elsewhere. MEDHOST technology may help optimize referrals, which is a key component in maintaining a sustainable hospital. Patient and provider portals that help guide and track consumer behavior, and deliver that information via analytics, assist your ability to understand, engage, and manage the populations and clinicians you serve.

Technology investments should be a priority, knowing it will have a positive impact on the bottom line. It’s imperative that community hospitals look beyond the mandatory technology upgrades required by regulations and focus on adding technology that benefits the consumer directly, such as user-friendly portals that can help empower the healthcare consumer to take ownership of their health.

Issues facing rural hospitals today range from hiring and retention, employees aging into retirement, location, patient outmigration, and outdated technology, but the good news is there are solutions available to community hospitals right now in the form of patient-centered technology, innovative partnerships, and forward-thinking actions by hospital leadership that promote relationships with the communities they serve.

You may also be interested in: