Patient Engagement in Rural Areas – Facing technology limitations

When it comes to patient engagement in rural areas, there are many challenges, one of the most prevalent being technology limitations. One key challenge is access to broadband services.  With the lack of broadband availability and the limited funding faced by most rural facilities it can seem nearly impossible to provide patients with access to the technology resources they need. How can we expect patients to engage if they are unable to access their information? This can also create another challenge around patient education.  If they don’t have access to technology, this can often mean that they have little to no experience with technology.

So what can be done to solve these challenges? First, identify where the technology is available, such as libraries and community centers.  You can educate patients on how to access and use these resources. Another way to tackle the issue of the lack of access to technology is by rolling out kiosks in designated areas, such as grocery or drug stores, so patients are able to access their information and engage with their physician. Pursuant Health has recently announced that they are partnering with the American Diabetes Association to provide the Association’s Diabetes Risk Test through Pursuant Health’s national in-store health kiosk network.

Another way to solve these patient engagement challenges is by organizing focus groups within your community and/or hospital to gather ideas on different ways to engage your patient population, and then use trial and error to track what works best. Another suggestion is setting up a discussion with another rural hospital that is currently or has recently overcome technology limitations. This would be incredibly beneficial for you team, and CoreTech can help arrange and lead the discussion to ensure that you walk away with ideas on how to improve these issues in your patient population. CoreTech can also conduct general research on your population, and provide additional suggestions based on the outcome of that research.

Your organization should market your new technology to promote adoption by your patients. By taking the time to evaluate and implement a marketing plan that will best target your patient population, you can really empower patients to want to take ownership of their personal health. Access to health information is as simple as logging into and sending an email, either at home, a local library or from a smart phone, and once patients understand the ease and convenience these tools offer, they are much more likely to use the technology. There are several positive outcomes you can use to motivate them, which include direct messaging and interaction with their physician, quicker access to their health information, better understanding of their health condition, faster and more thorough follow up, and the ability to correct errors they see in their patient record. As patients take greater ownership of their health and the technology tools available to them this will ultimately lead to reduced hospital readmission rates and less money out of patient pocket spent on unnecessary tests.

If your facility is facing technology limitations, you have the option to apply for a Hardship Exemption. When trying to meet Meaningful Use requirements, CMS will acknowledge that you have a certain set of challenges and will be more lenient with your numbers or extend your deadlines. For more information about how to apply for a hardship exception visit:  https://www.cms.gov/regulations-and-guidance/legislation/ehrincentiveprograms/paymentadj_hardship.html

You can also apply for grants to help fund new technology and patient education and ultimately be able to promote patient engagement. There are multiple resources that provide more detailed information on this subject. Here’s one source that provides information on the process of applying for grants and allows you to apply directly:  https://www.ruralhealthinfo.org/funding/topics/technology-for-health-and-human-services

In rural areas, you have to get more creative with solutions for these kinds of issues, and are required to think outside of the box like the suggestions that we’ve provided above. CoreTech has years of experience helping rural facilities with their technology limitations, and we will use our expertise and experience to assist your organization in engaging your patients and improving your patient care. Contact CoreTech today and see how our team can help your facility overcome patient engagement challenges!  

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