Many rural providers near retirement weigh making investment versus closing practice
LONDON, Ky. (April 5, 2013) — A new electronic health records (EHR) survey released this week found that 63 percent of rural health providers have not installed the new EHR software as mandated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
More than 280 of the small and rural doctor practices surveyed in the Southern Kentucky region could be impacted and would face financial penalties from Medicaid and Medicare if they do not have this new software installed by 2015.
The survey of 431 rural doctors was commissioned by Stronger Economies Together (SET), a USDA Rural Development program to help the region enhance and strengthen the biomedical and life science field. Southeastern Kentucky is one of only about 20 areas in the country to receive this assistance.
[pullquote_left]Kentucky lags behind the nation in the number of physicians per 100,000 people. Two-thirds of Kentucky’s population resides in rural areas but has only one-third of its doctors.[/pullquote_left]
Richard Murch, an IT consultant who specializes in electronic health records, said the survey also identified strengths and opportunities for the region.
“Large hospitals in the region such as ARH, Baptist Regional and others have successfully installed this software, and they are using the system with quality results,” he said. “However, seven hospitals that were surveyed experience difficulties finding qualified and experienced EHR IT staff. They frequently resorted to supplementing staff with outside consultants or outsourcing. These means jobs are being lost to outside sources.”
Murch said 73 percent of doctors’ practices have asked for help, so SET is creating a plan to provide education and training. Murch made the following training recommendations:
1. Provide online course for doctors, surgeons, nurses and other staff in hospitals, clinics and surgeries who will or are using the technology.
2. Provide new courses for people who want to enter or are already in the EHR field to study and obtain a qualification or receive additional training.
3. Provide online training for patients of the hospitals, clinics and doctors on how to access their medical records.
4. Establish the Health Information Technology Entrepreneurial Development Center to develop new electronic health records and health information technology businesses in the region.
The SET consortium will explore grant funding opportunities to implement aspects of Murch’s research recommendations for health information training.
“SET reviewed industry sector research to determine health care and health related businesses as the fastest growing business segment of our rural economy,” said Jerry Rickett, president and CEO of Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, which led the efforts to develop the winning SET application. “The goal through this initiative is to create an additional 100 jobs in the life sciences field within the next several years.”
Kentucky lags behind the nation in the number of physicians per 100,000 people. In rural areas, this problem is even worse. Two-thirds of Kentucky’s population resides in rural areas but has only one-third of its doctors.
Further investigation, including input from several health-care providers, revealed that many rural Kentucky providers are also near retirement and are considering whether to make the necessary investment of capital and personnel to comply with new mandates or just close their practice. The SET partners, through this project, will develop an action plan to preserve and increase rural health-care practices as well as allied health-care services throughout the region by providing training and support.
In addition to KHIC, other partners are the Lake Cumberland Workforce Investment Board, East Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Hazard Community and Technical College, Somerset Community College, The Center for Rural Development, Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, USDA state and regional staff, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, Eastern Kentucky University and life sciences industry partners.
The electronic health records survey focused on whether rural health-care providers were prepared to implement The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act), which was created to stimulate the adoption of electronic health records. Health-care providers are being offered financial incentives for electronic health records implementation until 2015, after which time penalties may be assessed for failing to demonstrate such use. Grants also are available for training centers for the personnel required supporting a health IT infrastructure.
Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, founded in 1968 to stimulate economic growth in nine counties in Southern and Eastern Kentucky, now serves 22 counties in the region and has created more than 18,000 jobs. For more information, visit http://www.khic.org.