Rural Healthcare Providers, IT Technology Providers, and the Government: Working to Build a Connected Network

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Many rural healthcare providers (HCPs) across the nation are struggling with issues unique to rural healthcare settings. Quite simply, there are seemingly insurmountable hurdles that often challenge rural healthcare providers including recruiting and retaining qualified and committed doctors and staff, understanding and complying with new healthcare regulations, and maintaining limited budgets while providing quality care to their patients.

A component of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) allows states to decide whether to participate in the Medicaid expansion provision. Many rural HCPs rely on Medicaid reimbursement funding for their operations, and news of lower private reimbursement rates may lead many facilities to financial distress or in some cases, even to closing their doors.

In addition, rural HCPs face unique challenges in adopting provisions of the HITECH Act of 2009, the ACA, and the meaningful use standards set by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) incentive programs that lay out the requirements for electronic health records (EHRs).

Although the EHR requirements apply to urban and rural health care providers alike, rural facilities tend to have fewer financial resources and proper technology to ensure compliance. According to a July article in Health Leaders Media, only one-third of rural healthcare facilities have adopted EHRs, as compared to one-half of urban facilities.

Fortunately, the federal government has made resources available especially for rural HCPs to narrow the funding gap. The Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) administers the Healthcare Connect Fund (HCF), a program designed to provide financial support to qualified rural healthcare facilities and consortia so they can upgrade their technologies and gain broadband connectivity.

Starting in late summer or early fall, HCPs can apply for eligible telecommunications service and Internet access funding at a flat 65% discount rate. Eligible HCPs will receive funding beginning January 1, 2014.  Essentially, an eligible HCP or consortium can invest in broadband connectivity services and the necessary equipment for access at only 35% of the purchase price (after federal reimbursement).

Other eligible services include, but are not limited to, cloud-based connectivity services, fiber and fiber maintenance, data center, and customized networks.

By securing government funding to assist with their telemedicine needs, such as EHR transitions or next-gen technology upgrades, rural HCPs can ease some of their financial burden. Windstream has worked extensively with USAC and other government agencies and has in-house experts who can help your rural healthcare facility determine its technology needs. We work closely with HCF participants and are familiar with the process and requirements, making us well equipped to help our HCF customers navigate the funding process.

We know the details can be confusing—let a trusted Windstream Rural Healthcare Specialist help with answers to your questions.