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Build a Better Small Hospital

Cora Nucci, for HealthLeaders Media, March 2, 2011

What's keeping rural hospitals from expanding their health information technology initiatives?

Only 6% of rural healthcare industry executives surveyed recently by HealthLeaders Media said that technology systems/equipment was the top priority on their agendas.

Part of the answer may be found in the same survey, where 45% of respondents said clinical technology is one of the top three cost drivers in their organizations. Despite millions of dollars in government incentives, cost remains a barrier to EHR adoption among many rural hospitals.

"The benefits of health information technology can be especially important for patients and clinicians in small and rural health care facilities, yet these facilities face high hurdles as they look toward joining in the transition to electronic information," Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said back in September 2010, when  HHS had just announced $20 million in funding to be distributed among 1,655 critical access and rural hospitals in 41 states to help convert from paper to electronic health record technology.

There's no arguing with Sebelius on the financials. Rural hospitals aren't known for their deep pockets.

But that's not all that's holding back progress across America's rural and mostly small hospitals. The problem is much more fundamental: Most facilities haven't been designed to overcome their most vexing challenges: short funds and thin staffs.

But now there's an opportunity to re-imagine and re-design the small hospital. What would it look like, ideally?

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