Category: Rural Health

Can Existing Technology Really Save Rural Hospitals?

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Between 2013 and 2017, nearly twice as many rural hospitals (64) closed their doors than the previous 5-year period; predominately located in the south, according to a recent publication by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.  Through shrinking commercial reimbursement rates, increasing dual-eligible Medicaid-Medicare beneficiary populations, competition with alternative care settings (Urgent care, Minute Clinics, etc.), transitioning payment models and the usual complex nature of rural healthcare finances, rural hospitals find few opportunities for new revenue sources.  Considering the often-devastating impact of losing our rural caretakers within our communities, let’s take a quick pulse of the technology 2018 brought, that could potentially boost 2019’s income statement, if implemented wisely.

  1. Telehealth: Telehealth services bring obvious and immediate communication convenience to patients and staff alike. Instituting e-health billable services and billable chronic care management or transitional care programs, can be a bit of a challenge at first; though they routinely lead to recurrent revenue strategies for America’s rural hospitals. On top of that, virtual visits and remote monitoring bring a complicated logistical, scheduling, and reimbursement opportunity as well as an increased expectation of availability. The lesser understood benefit here, however, is the ability to institute upfront payment for such convenient services. As patient liability continues to rise to roughly 20% of outstanding allowables, the uniquely “brand-spanking new” nature of telehealth services allows an opportunity to collect patient portions immediately. Consumer-minded patients seek convenience; thusly, the question to ‘Press 1 to pay now’ is much more palatable while waiting for a convenient e-visit. Instituting recurrent revenue streams by introducing telehealth services throughout the daily workflow, can turn “Found Time” to “Billable Time.”
  2. Routine Follow-Up Care: Define it as telehealth, EHR utilization, population health or simply patient outreach – Every health system or physician practice can re-evaluate how efficiently we utilize technology to contact our patients. Providing routinely effective follow-up care is the starting point for not only the best possible clinical outcomes, but also maintaining patient loyalty, reducing readmissions and unnecessary ED utilization, and providing a top-notch patient experience. While hospitals handle telephone encounters and routine follow-up care differently, most often utilizing technological strategies instituted several years ago, it is always worth re-evaluating your outreach and use of business intelligence to monitor your success rates. This does not imply purchasing anything new, but often implies restructuring familiar and deeply ingrained workflows and internal skill sets.
  3. Partnerships with Data: Whether you’re providing teleradiology reading services, sharing in population health initiatives, Health Information Exchanges, or partnering with cloud-based HIT providers, the enormous influx and importance of data-driven decision-making continues to rise. Data accuracy, integrity, and reliability all continue to grow in variance from the high-end partnerships with continuously reputable results down to incomplete and incoherent data-sourced partnerships. When considered a priority, rural hospitals with keen eyes for technological solutions, often can find applicable alternatives via partnerships, without major disruptions in workflow or collections. Routinely reviewing current contracted claim payments, understanding the timing of patient liability payments, and reviewing the continuity of care services are the mere tip of the analytical iceberg rural hospitals must be successful in doing on a routine bases. Navigating the relative impact of which data-driven partnerships to pursue will continue to keep our rural hospitals afloat and thriving as our industry continues evolving.

To quote Charles Darwin….”It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

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FCC Unanimously votes to increase Rural Telehealth budget by $171 million

Federal Communications Chairman Ajit Pai recently requested an increase in the annual funding cap for the Rural Health Care Program by $171 million. The Rural Health Care Program funds the essential technical infrastructure for telecommunications companies to work with rural healthcare providers and their telehealth efforts and the transmission of electronic health records in rural America.