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Rural nursing homes lagging behind in information technology

Nursing homes in rural areas are behind their urban counterparts when it comes to information technology.

By Amy Wallace
A new study by the University of Missouri found that rural nursing homes are lagging behind their urban counterparts when it comes to health information technology. (UPI Photo/Mohammad Kheirkhah) | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/74212d4707a9e9e298cad3a24a190d31/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
A new study by the University of Missouri found that rural nursing homes are lagging behind their urban counterparts when it comes to health information technology. (UPI Photo/Mohammad Kheirkhah) | License Photo

COLUMBIA, Mo., Dec. 13 (UPI) -- In the first national assessment of nursing homes since 2004, researchers have found a significant difference in health information technology use between nursing homes in urban and rural communities which may have an impact on patient care.

The study by the University of Missouri found that nursing homes located in metropolitan areas had greater IT laboratory capabilities for resident registration and admission along with having a better ability to conduct and verify medical tests than their rural counterparts.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that more than 1 million older Americans depend on the 16,000 nursing homes in the United States for health care.

"Previous studies demonstrate that IT sophistication can improve health outcomes for patients, such as reducing hospitalizations," Greg Alexander, professor at the Sinclair School of Nursing, said in a press release. "The benefits of IT sophistication do not differ based on geography; however, in this national assessment, we found a significant gap in IT sophistication between rural and urban areas."

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This gap in health IT could have implications for patient care because rural nursing homes would have less capacity to share information with hospitals to allow for high-quality transitions in care, according to researchers.

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"As competition for experienced health care IT professionals increases in urban areas, rural health care organizations are finding it difficult to compete for needed talent," Alexander said in a press release. "Policy makers need to be aware of the unique challenges facing rural health organizations and provide the necessary incentives to help rural nursing homes improve their IT sophistication. Improvement of IT sophistication will lead to better patient outcomes and a better quality of life for nursing home residents."

Alexander plans to study health informatics in nursing homes and IT sophistication and quality measures at Macquarie University in Australia thanks to the Fulbright U.S. Scholar program grant he recently received.

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"The state of nursing home information technology sophistication in rural and non-rural U.S. markets," was published in the Journal of Rural Health.

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