Keep Care in your Community

Chris Fowler, President & CEO, TruBridge
Modern Healthcare
Mar 04, 2024
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Keep care in your community: Three ways for rural healthcare to thrive

Read the article on Modern Healthcare’s website > 

By Chris Fowler, President & CEO, TruBridge

People management, revenue cycle and technology integration are the top three priorities for rural healthcare organizations in 2024, according to a recent report published by WIPFLI. As a champion for better health outcomes, especially in rural communities, this report is particularly encouraging.

Having seen firsthand the challenges and successes faced by community health leaders across the country, I share an optimistic outlook on the future of rural healthcare. Leaders are finding ways to adapt, especially as artificial intelligence secures a seat in both technical and business workflows. These strategic initiatives provide a guiding light on the path forward.

People are at the core of care delivery.

Workforce shortages are widespread, especially in rural settings. In fact, 90% of rural health systems reported labor shortages last year alone. This year, despite the widespread impact, leaders seem more hopeful, with 35% reporting their workforce has increased since 2023. According to research, higher wages, significant benefit programs and proactive recruiting are factors behind the improvement.

With a strong workforce and strategic technological support, health systems can focus on addressing patients’ needs efficiently and effectively. People, revenue and technology go together as each plays a vital role in addressing the overall health of communities.

Revenue is a primary concern for rural hospitals.

The outlook on revenue is also a positive one, despite turbulence following the pandemic. Notably, 60% of organizations have higher revenues than five years ago in pre-COVID times. One way for rural facilities to increase their revenue is by expanding service offerings to keep care in the community. Health systems are finding ways to offer specialized services in their own facilities rather than outsourcing to larger, more urban care centers.

Quality, local healthcare benefits patients and rural organizations alike. With broader care offerings, patients can continue their healthcare journey at a local hospital. Receiving care close to home cuts down on travel time, costs and disruptions.

Hospitals benefit by retaining patients through expanded services. Options such as chemo, radiation and dialysis at a rural facility are attainable and necessary ways health systems can address community needs and maintain a strong bottom line. Healthcare organizations must streamline the revenue cycle while relieving undue burden on staff. This is where technology can meaningfully step in.

Technology leads the way to the future of healthcare.

Over half (52%) of organizations reported increased investment in AI this year. As AI and machine learning applications continue to emerge and integrate into workflows, hospital staff (in both clinical and back-office roles) must be ready for its adoption. Lockstep with AI is the need for strong IT infrastructure, especially through cybersecurity and compliance.

Clear the way for care.

Despite the risks, organizations see meaningful ways to leverage technology to reduce denials, improve user experience in patient portals, and expand outreach without adding staff. While opportunities for technology grow, staff must be reeducated and upskilled. Assessment of current and available technology, policies, workflows and revenue will inform healthcare leaders on when and how to act within this new healthcare ecosystem.

The future of rural healthcare is positive and hopeful, despite recent challenges. The blend of community support, financial resources and technological advancements presents a unique opportunity to improve health outcomes. Rural America is not only ready for this change but also truly deserves it.