Rural Hospitals Catching Up In HIT Adoption

Posted on December 14, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Historically, rural hospitals have lagged when it comes to health IT adoption. But according to at least one yardstick, the HIMSS EMR Adoption Model (EMRAM), rural facilities seem to have closed much of the gap.

Just a few years ago, many rural hospitals were barely at stage one of the model, which ranks facilities from Stage 0 (All three ancillaries not installed) to Stage 7 (Complete EMR; CCD transactions to share data; Data warehousing; Data continuity with ED, ambulatory, OP). Only two years ago, research suggested that rural and critical access hospitals were lagging far behind in meeting Meaningful Use criteria, and risked incurring penalties this year.

By the end of 2014, however, rural hospitals averaged a Stage 4 rating (CPOE, Clinical Decision Support (clinical protocols). This compares favorably with the 4.7 rank achieved by urban hospitals, and though academic/teaching hospitals were well ahead at a 5.4 ranking, that’s a much smaller difference than you might have seen even five years ago. Meaningful Use incentives, plus overall industry pressure to automate, seem to have done their job.

I’m pondering this, in part, because the CPSI acquisition of Healthland piqued my interest. CPSI picked up Healthland, a provider of rural and critical access hospital software, for $250 million. Given rural hospitals’ history of slow HIT adoption, I wasn’t sure what CPSI saw in Healthland, though the deal does bring revenue cycle management and an EMR for post-acute care facilities to the table.

Now that I’ve learned what progress the rural health IT market has seen, I’m no longer so skeptical. In fact, when you consider that the Healthland acquisition brings 3,300 post-acute customers that it didn’t have before, it seems like CPSI got a pretty nice deal.

Given the growing strength of the rural HIT market, I don’t think the Healthland buyout will be the last domino to fall here. I can easily imagine the giants — Cerner in particular — seeing their way clear to acquiring the combined CPSI/Healthland entity. Why Cerner? Well, if for no other reasons than having a ton of cash — and a more flexible attitude than Epic — I can imagine Cerner getting excited about rural access.

But even putting aside M&A dynamics, the news from rural markets is still intriguing. While having sophisticated health IT infrastructure is a plus anywhere, my guess is that it will be particularly powerful for rural and critical access hospitals. I hope that the growth of HIT capabilities brings a breath of fresh air — and the benefits of cutting-edge care management — to facilities that have traditionally gotten the short end of the stick.