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10 stories on improving health outcomes in rural communities

Published on 11/20/2019

Estimated read time: 8 minutes

On the third Thursday in November, health care professionals across the country celebrate National Rural Health Day. It’s an opportunity to recognize the collaborative, innovative and educational efforts of rural health providers.

In honor of this special day, we’re highlighting 10 blogs and podcasts focused on the role of technology in empowering better patient outcomes in these communities.

1. The rural health care challenge 

Dave Dellasega, president and CEO, Great Plains Health Alliance

Rural hospitals provide essential health care services to nearly 57 million people across the country and are often an integral part of the local economy, providing jobs and a tax base for the community. In his blog, Dave outlines how differences in the health needs of rural and urban populations can contribute to the struggle of rural hospitals. Because these hospitals can be especially vulnerable to federal funding changes, supportive models can create an efficient patient experience that benefit community members, patients and providers alike.

“Rural America is an integral part of this country’s fabric – it’s where our food is grown, our livestock is raised and our coal is mined. Geography shouldn’t be a factor in the quality of a person’s health care — when rural hospitals can stay open, these communities not only survive, they and the rest of the country benefit.” – Dave Dellasega

2. Reshaping rural health with innovative design and technology at Patterson Health Center

Mitchell Clark, president, Cerner CommunityWorks

In July 2019, The Patterson Health Center, a new critical access hospital, clinic and health center, opened in Harper County, Kansas. The 62,500-square-foot facility was significantly funded by the late Cerner co-founder Neal Patterson and includes a 16-bed critical access hospital, a health clinic and centers for wellness, physical therapy and rehabilitation. Mitchell states that, despite growing challenges, a new model of rural health with an emphasis on modern infrastructure and high-quality care can create a proactive and patient-centered experience that can make meaningful impact in rural communities.

“On the farm, Neal’s father instructed his sons to always ‘complete one more round after sundown.’ It was a message meant to push the family to accomplish more than what they thought was possible. Leaders of the Patterson Health Center have installed a sunset mural at the staff entrance to remind them of this principle. Now it’s our turn to complete one more round after sundown as we partner with them to transform the future of health care.” Mitchell Clark

3. NRHA’s Alan Morgan on overcoming rural health care challenges [PODCAST]

Alan Morgan, CEO, National Rural Health Association

Roughly one in every six Americans live in rural areas and depend upon the hospital in their community. However, rural hospitals face more and more closures, and when a hospital closes in a rural community, the impact is far-reaching. In this podcast, Alan discusses the challenges that rural health care providers face and how they can position themselves to overcome some of these obstacles moving forward.

“‘Rural’ is not a small version of ‘urban.’ It’s a unique health care delivery environment.” – Alan Morgan

4. Achieving operational excellence in community hospitals

Michelle M. Rathman, president & CEO, Impact! Communications, Inc.

Despite a “tidal wave of uncertainty and change” in rural health, Michelle argues that fostering a culture of emotional intelligence and trust in critical access hospitals can be key to overcoming the pressures of community health care. In this blog, she discusses how to drive positive change through strategic internal communication and provides five tips for effective communication that can build a solid foundation for high-quality care.

“Many hospital administrators I’ve worked with over the years have bemoaned the fact that they’re putting lots of information out there but getting less enthusiasm and support for what they want to do. This is the crux of the problem – confusing information sharing with communication. Telling someone something doesn’t necessarily mean the information is received or understood. Words are wasted if all we’re doing is talking.” – Michelle M. Rathman

5. Be small, be bold

Dr. Michelle Flemmings, CMIO, Pagosa Springs Medical Center

It’s no secret that small, rural hospitals tend to face many unique challenges while also sharing the common obstacles faced by larger, more urban hospitals and health systems. It’s estimated that approximately 20% of Americans live in rural communities. However, these communities cover 95 percent of our country. Dr. Flemmings serves as the CMIO of the smallest independent critical access hospital to receive the prestigious HIMSS Stage 7 designation. In her blog, she urges other rural care providers to be bold in their approach to technology, services, partnerships and processes. 

“Even with the odds seemingly stacked against us, it doesn’t mean rural health care organizations have to just accept the situation and trudge on with our heads down ... I am a firm believer that even if an organization is small, it can absolutely still be bold. Being small and being bold are not mutually exclusive characterizations.” – Dr. Michelle Flemmings

6. Tim Putnam and Chelsea Bressers on transforming rural health care through population health strategies [PODCAST]

Chelsea Bressers, senior director and sales leader, Cerner

Tim Putnam, president and CEO, Margaret Mary Health

In this episode of “Perspectives on Health and Tech, ” Chelsea talks to Tim, who leads a hospital that serves more than 65,000 residents in Batesville, Indiana. He discusses how his team is continuously improving their population health strategy to make sure they meet provider and patient needs.

“One rural hospital closes every month; 46% of rural hospitals have been identified as at-risk financially, and 700 rural hospitals have been marked for potential closure.” – Tim Putnam

7. Leveraging technology to improve rural health outcomes in the now and next 

Mitchell Clark, president, Cerner CommunityWorks

Rural health care providers deserve to have reliable, seamlessly integrated technology across all the departments they support. Mitchell explains the unique set of challenges that rural health care organizations face – including budget crunches, an aging patient population and a shrinking workforce – as they operate in an unstable environment year to year. While some view technology as a limitation, Mitchell suggests that the correct solutions catered specifically toward rural providers can open doors for hospitals and entire communities.

“As rural hospitals figure out how to do more with less, there needs to be a way to leverage available resources. While any rural hospitals view technology as one of the greatest limitations and challenges they face in today’s landscape, it could also be the key that opens doors for their hospital and community.” – Mitchell Clark

8. How hospitals can benefit from a LEAN model 

Jennifer Newton, chief nursing officer, Neosho Memorial Regional Medical Center

Jennifer serves one of the largest critical access hospitals in the state of Kansas. In her blog, she explains the increasing impact of LEAN thinking (a structured way to solve problems that cause waste in a system) in the health care industry. By adopting LEAN management practices in their hospital, leaders at Neosho Memorial have effectively identified waste and standardized processes, which has ultimately improved the patient and provider experience.

“Largely, our customers want and expect us to use our time – and theirs – efficiently. LEAN teaches us to focus on the areas of waste that is not value added for our patients. Using LEAN tools, we can try to eliminate those forms of waste in our system.” – Jennifer Newton

9. Tackling the opioid epidemic: Where to begin 

Dr. Mike Fadden, director and CMO, Physician Alignment

There is no question that the U.S. is suffering from an opioid crisis. While addiction affects people from all walks of life in urban, suburban and rural areas, geographically isolated communities are impacted with more overdose deaths than those in large metropolitan areas. In his blog, Dr. Fadden discusses the roots of the current epidemic and how these have manifested into unique challenges in rural areas. In addition, Dr. Fadden outlines several strategies that care providers can employ to address opioid abuse head-on. 

“I risk understating it when I say that surviving an accidental overdose can be a motivational wake-up call. When a person becomes open to treatment for opioid addiction, the environment of care must be ready. Ideas here include greater and immediate access to medication-assisted treatment programs, first dose suboxone in the ED and the use of ‘peer’ coaches.” – Dr. Mike Fadden

10. The power of partnership for rural hospitals 

Adam Willmann, FACHE, president and CEO, Goodall-Witcher Hospital Authority

Based in Clifton, Texas, Goodall-Witcher Hospital Authority offers complete inpatient and outpatient care to residents of Bosque County and other surrounding areas. As an independent critical access hospital, GWHA has benefited through several partnerships with health care associations and IT suppliers within its community and even with other neighboring hospitals which would otherwise be considered competitors. By leveraging these successful partnerships, the hospital meets patient needs in a unique way that also enhances its reputation within the small community. 

“Our greatest partnership is with our community. Rural hospitals and providers understand this partnership better than most. Without our community, GWHA would not be around. We are the largest employer in the community, and we take that responsibility seriously and work to give back to our county.” – Adam Willmann

Cerner CommunityWorksâ„  has been delivering cloud-based EHR technology paired with managed services since 2009, empowering rural health care organizations to keep up with the ever-changing health care landscape. Learn more here.