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Rural physicians keep pace with urban professionals in EHRs, meaningful use

Though they are often thought to possess fewer resources than their colleagues that practice in different geographic locations, physicians who are based in rural areas have kept up with their urban counterparts when it comes to EHR adoption.

By 2013, 82.3% of rural physicians installed an EHR system. In comparison, only 78% of urban-based physicians had adopted EHRs by the same year, according to a study published in Health Affairs. Data derived from the 2013 National Electronic Health Records Survey and included in the study showed that the greater likelihood of rural ambulatory professionals adopting EHR systems — compared to those in urban settings — extended to numerous groups. Specifically, a larger percentage of rural primary care physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants had installed EHRs when measured against urban healthcare employees with the same job titles.

The study also analyzed the levels of success of urban and rural specialists in attesting to meaningful use. Rural professionals were found to have an edge in this regard, as 91% of rural podiatrists, nearly 88% of rural optometrists and roughly three quarters of rural physicians successfully achieved the criteria that make up the meaningful use program. Those figures all exceeded the percentages reported by the same specialist groups that worked in urban settings.

Not every statistic in the survey came back in favor of rural providers, however. The percentage of rural providers that attested to meaningful use and subsequently dropped out of the program for a year between 2012 and 2014 topped the urban number 38% to 34.9%. Critical access hospitals –medical facilities that are at least 35 miles from another hospital, located in a rural area and have an average length of stay of less than 96 hours — that initially met meaningful use standards between 2011 and 2013 represented the group most likely to pass over a year of meaningful use attestation, as 16.4% of them did so.

Meeting the requirements of meaningful use should be easier for critical access hospitals through 2016 and 2017 than in previous years, as a recent update to the program reduced the number of criteria that apply to critical access hospitals from 20 objectives to nine.