Telehealth and Distance Learning Can Help Rural Hospitals Face Challenges

Telehealth and Distance Learning Can Help Rural Hospitals Face ChallengesThe Affordable Care Act (ACA), with its mission to drastically expand health coverage to underserved Americans, contained provisions specifically designed to help rural hospitals. These facilities tend to struggle, not only because of their geographic isolation, but because the rural populations they draw patients from are usually older, poorer, and more likely to have chronic disease than many urban populations. Rural communities also often lack the social service agencies and disease management programs that help city dwellers manage their own care.

Keeping up with information technology is especially difficult for small hospitals with small budgets, and many are struggling to implement an EMR system that can meet meaningful use guidelines. Clinical informatics specialists are in high demand right now, and are commanding high salaries that rural facilities cannot offer.

Recruiting and retaining clinical staff in rural areas is also a top challenge, as the entire country faces impending shortages of physicians and nurses. It’s true that many areas are facing insufficient numbers of primary care providers, however, rural facilities often lack clinicians with specialized knowledge—meaning patients may have to travel long distances and take time off work to get necessary treatments or diagnostic services.

Technology can bridge the distance

Telehealth services are the obvious answer to increasing access to healthcare in rural communities. Not only can patients see specialists without the burden of travel, but rural clinicians, including advanced practice nurses, can consult with distant colleagues who have specialized expertise. Telenursing is also of value, since remote patient monitoring can allow home health nurses to see more patients in a day without spending so much time on the road. This can increase quality of care while decreasing the costs associated with unnecessary readmissions and frequent emergency room visits.

Distance learning is another use of technology to improve patient care. Ever since the IOM released its landmark report, The Future of Nursing, nurse leaders have been seeking ways to create a more educated nursing workforce. A growing body of research has linked BSN-prepared nurses with better patient outcomes, and nurse managers and nurse executives are also seeking advanced degrees, in order to become more effective leaders. Coursework delivered over the Internet can allow nurses to earn a BSN, MSN, or DNP degree without having to travel long distances to attend traditional classes.

The Pathways to Excellence program is a national designation that rural hospitals can attain more easily than Magnet status, which may be beyond their reach. Pathways requirements specifically mention education levels, stating that “The CNO is expected to be an RN with a master’s degree in nursing or be able to show he or she is pursuing a master’s or an MBA.” There is also a requirement for staff nurses to have access to continuing education and academic opportunities.

Distance learning makes sense

It’s true that going back to school takes dedication and commitment. Yet earning a BSN, MSN, or DNP is easier than ever, thanks to accredited, high-quality online programs like those provided at American Sentinel University. In today’s world, there are many reasons why it makes sense to earn an MSN degree online, including flexibility, convenience, time and money savings, and the ability to choose the right school for you with no geographic boundaries.

Current technologies make online learning a rich and engaging experience, through virtual lectures, multimedia content, and message boards. American Sentinel is a highly interactive academic environment. You can interact with professors through email and in weekly group discussion forums – as well as engage with other students in the course discussion forums and on SchoolsApp, where you can join groups, post to forums, and instant message other students. You’ll have the opportunity to network with other nursing professionals from around the country, instead of just those in your town.

American Sentinel also features an adult learning model. With the current push for nurses to advance their education, large numbers of mid-career nurses in their 30s, 40s, and 50s are returning to school, so the online programs are designed to meet the needs of experienced nurses who may already have years of clinical experience under their belts.

Recruiting experienced nurses to a rural community isn’t always easy. But since nurses who already live in a rural setting have an incentive to stay there, it makes sense to empower them with knowledge through distance learning, in order to provide the best possible patient care.

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