The Rural Network that Could

Cora Nucci, October 13, 2010

Planning for and implementing an electronic health records system is a daunting task for any hospital or healthcare system. But when a network of seven critical access hospitals in northern Iowa launched its system in 2008 it became the country's first rural integrated EHR. Now the CIO is sharing details of how he and his team got the job done.

Trinity Health, based in Novi, MI, may not sound like a rural provider; it's the fourth largest Catholic health system in the country. But it operates 44 acute-care hospitals, as well as 379 outpatient facilities, 26 long-term care facilities, and numerous home health offices and hospice programs in seven core states.

Trinity's seven rural hospitals in northern Iowa, separated from each other by hundreds of miles are critical to the communities they serve. Connected electronically they are able to deliver higher quality patient care than they could before.

Even with financing facilitated by two grants from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the road to implementing an EHR must have looked impassable at times. To attain "comprehensive" EHR status, the hospitals would have to fulfill a long list of requirements. Their disparate information systems and applications would have to be standardized in what would become the foundation of the network.

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