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Automation In Rural Health: It Should No Longer Be An Afterthought

Dec 01, 2022

The following is a guest article by Baha Zeidan, CEO at Azalea Health.

Editor’s Note: Baha Zeidan discusses advanced technology in rural hospitals and how automation of processes can set providers up for success—focusing more time on patients and conserving resources—in the increasingly digital landscape.

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Deploying advanced technologies is often an afterthought, especially for rural hospitals struggling to retain talent and navigate the increasingly complex regulatory environment.

However, new technologies empower providers to streamline their operations, reduce the time spent on administrative tasks, and conserve increasingly precious resources.

In Q1 2022, the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond found that hospitals across the nation have 105,000 fewer workers than in February 2020, a roughly 2% decline. Rural providers especially feel the pinch, as medical centers often have trouble attracting the talent they need, and many hospitals are increasingly closing their doors.

The antidote to these trends is the automation of processes. This action could pay dividends for rural providers and set them up for success in the increasingly digital healthcare landscape and as the industry embraces new payment and care delivery models.

Providers don't have to automate every aspect of their operations at one time — they can start with those processes that can be easily automated and grow from there. Even if a single process saves a small amount of time, coupled with the automation of multiple elements, it represents a significant, measurable amount.

Technology will lessen the administrative burden.

Rural hospitals often lag in integrating financial information and electronic health records (EHRs) because of staffing shortfalls and the perceived cost of doing so. However, both empower providers to lessen the administrative burden and tap into data to act proactively — a move that can ultimately help reduce costs.

Consider that some providers still use manual processes, such as pen and paper, thinking it saves time and money. Digitizing records requires a separate process after the fact, which usually leads to the need for additional personnel and higher costs.

It also opens the door to errors that often occur with manual processes. Worst of all, because retroactively digitizing records requires an additional step and more time, it often does not happen.

Whether it's patient communications, EHR, access to analytics or patient communications, the elimination of manual processes from the start has the power to improve patient outcomes. Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) can help mitigate the labor shortage and help providers safeguard precious financial resources without the need to reduce the quality-of-care patients receive.

Integrating offices with labs and third-party facilities, leveraging a patient portal, and connecting via direct messaging are practical uses of technology. Automating consult and referral letters, patient education, follow-up reminders, and online bill pay will streamline operations and reduce the accounts receivable (A/R) time.

Innovation must be ingrained at every level.

To maximize the benefits of automation, providers must integrate innovation into every aspect of service, process, and technology. Improving patient care and maximizing profitability requires visibility into the day-to-day management and actionable insights to inform decisions and improve daily operations.

This is usually best deployed through a technology-enabled service. Providers need a health IT platform that supports needed customizations and telehealth integrations.

The right tool will enable physicians and providers to seamlessly chart clinical, administrative, and financial information and eliminate time-consuming manual processes and dual data entry to improve workflow and performance. Additionally, data-driven analytics empower rural providers to understand the various social determinants of health (SDOH), how they affect their population, and how to customize treatments.

A silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it has been a catalyst for change. Many rural and community practices and hospitals have wanted to evolve for some time but did not for various reasons.

Adopting new solutions will optimize providers' overall financial health in the near term and help providers adapt to the changing healthcare landscape in the long term.

As the healthcare landscape seems increasingly unpredictable, technology and automation should help providers focus their time on patients while conserving resources. This can no longer be an afterthought; it must be an integral part of operations from the start. Get Fresh Healthcare & IT Stories Delivered Daily Join thousands of your healthcare & HealthIT peers who subscribe to our daily newsletter. We respect your privacy and will never sell or give out your contact information
 

This article was written by Guest Author from Healthcare IT Today and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.