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Rural Health Care Facilities Face Additional Challenges in Changing to Electronic Records

By Kellie Bramlet, Avalanche Journal  

June 21, 2011

Scarce resources, few and far away pharmacies and lack of access to the Internet, present obstacles faced by rural health care facilities in transferring medical records to an electronic system.

To assist employees of those hospitals and clinics, the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center F. Marie Hall Institute for Rural and Community Health, the West Texas Area Health Education Center and the West Texas Health Information Technology Regional Extension Center will hold a two-day conference June 27 and 28.

The first day of the conference will focus on using electronic medical records.

Under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, the federal government requires all Americans have access to electronic medical records by 2014.

Beginning in 2015, doctors not using electronic medical records will lose a percentage of their Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements fees.

"It allows you to measure the quality of care for a patient," said John Delaney, West Texas Health Information Technology Regional Extension Center director.

The electronic records will allow a variety of doctors and pharmacists to see a patient's medical history, enabling them to determine more easily which treatment methods prove more effective, and hopefully better serve their patients, Delaney explained.

Transferring to e-records raises an issue for the entire medical field. But medical facilities in rural health care facilities may run into extra challenges.

"In rural communities, they have to make do with less," said Shannon Kirkland, senior director of the F. Marie Hall Institute for Rural and Community Health.

In some cases, less means fewer people.

The process of transferring to e-records would not require Information Technology staff only - a luxury rural hospitals and clinics don't have anyway. The entire staff, from physicians to administrative assistants will take on the work, Delaney said.

Meanwhile, some hospitals also don't have the high-speed Internet necessary to support the electronic records systems.

Some rural pharmacies, far from hospitals and clinics, may face these difficulties too.

The new e-records system will allow doctors to "e-prescribe" medication and electronically send prescriptions to the pharmacies.

But small town pharmacies may need to improve their hardware to receive the prescriptions, Delaney explained.

And while some rural hospitals struggle, others thrive.

"It's not all a grim picture," Kirkland said.

The symposium will also highlight clinics and hospitals doing well, like those in Plainview, Post and Denver City. Other area health care workers will learn from these locations.

Delaney said the symposium will focus on how all parts of the staff can participate in this program.

"We're just going to talk a lot about using multidisciplinary teams," Delaney said. "It really takes your whole organization to effectively use electronic records."

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