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How tech is shaping rural healthcare delivery

Artesia General Hospital CIO Eric Jimenez shares his insights on how technology impacts rural healthcare delivery.
By admin
Dec 5, 2023, 5:08 PM

In an era where technology is revolutionizing healthcare, its transformative impact can vary significantly, particularly between urban and rural settings. To explore this phenomenon in-depth, we had the opportunity to sit down with Eric Jimenez, the Chief Information Officer of Artesia General Hospital. Nestled in Southeastern New Mexico, nearly four hours south of Albuquerque and approximately three hours north of the Mexico border, Artesia General is a 25-bed nonprofit hospital that serves as a vital healthcare hub for its community. In our conversation, we delved into how technology has specifically influenced care delivery in this critical rural healthcare setting. 

DHI: What are the unique challenges and opportunities you face as a CIO in a rural hospital?  

Jimenez: As a rural healthcare CIO, I face the following challenges. Talent acquisition and retention is one of my biggest challenges. Rural America is not an easy place to live. We don’t have the luxuries and amenities like the bigger cities. The plus side that rural America does offer is the cost of living is a lot cheaper than our urban counterparts. In rural America, the talent pool is much smaller. In order to keep the talent, we have to make sure we stay competitive with the market. I go back to a [Virgin Group Founder] Richard Branson quote  I found years ago: “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”   

One of the significant challenges that our health system in New Mexico still faces is the limited internet connectivity from our health system to patients. The state of New Mexico doesn’t have the most significant internet speeds, which makes it difficult for our health system to provide seamless services to patients.   Our ability to be flexible and innovative is one of our biggest opportunities. As a rural healthcare provider, we are not bound by the bureaucracy that often hinders larger urban institutions. This freedom allows us to make faster decisions and adopt innovative technologies and best practices more quickly. As a result, we can create and implement customized solutions that directly address the unique needs of our community.  

DHI: How has technology changed the landscape of healthcare delivery in rural areas like Artesia, NM?   

Jimenez: Technology has significantly transformed the healthcare delivery landscape. When I began my career in rural healthcare in 2010, technology was considered a taboo. However, over the years, it has become a necessity. I remember a CEO telling me that they were forced to adopt technology by the government, and he did not see its value. But now, we cannot operate without technology.  

DHI: Can you provide specific examples of how technology has improved patient care at Artesia General Hospital?  

Jimenez: In 2015, we implemented a single Electronic Health Record (EHR) system for our hospital and clinic. This has greatly improved patient care by giving our providers with a comprehensive view of our community’s health information. As a result, we are now able to provide better care to our patients. I can attest to this from my daughter’s recent experience. When she broke her arm and we had to take her to the emergency room, the doctor had immediate access to her complete medical history. Similarly, when we visited the orthopedic doctor for her broken arm, he too had access to her medical history through the EHR system.  

DHI: How significant is telemedicine in providing healthcare services in rural communities?  

Jimenez: It has a significant impact in rural communities because the accessibility to other healthcare providers that could take days or weeks to see; they are able to see patients within a much shorter timeframe. Patients do not have to travel hours and incur the travel expense to get care.    

DHI: What are the limitations and advantages you’ve observed with telemedicine in a rural setting?  

Jimenez: One of the biggest limitations has been the technology divide patients have to overcome. We still have patients who prefer to see a provider face to face. They trust in technology is not there yet.   

The biggest advantages are that patients have greater access to providers that would take them days or potentially months to gain access to appointments.   

DHI: What emerging technologies do you believe will have the most significant impact on rural healthcare in the near future?  

Jimenez: The integration of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in healthcare has the potential to bring about a significant positive impact. By leveraging a vast dataset on patients and incorporating AI and ML algorithms, healthcare providers can enhance their decision-making capabilities and detect potential issues early on. This could lead to better outcomes for patients and inspire a new era of healthcare innovation.  

DHI: How does Artesia General Hospital plan to adapt to these upcoming technological changes?  

Jimenez: Education and training are crucial to adapting to upcoming technological changes. It is essential to ensure that our staff is proficient in utilizing new technologies. Our goal is to provide them with ongoing training. We need to engage our community by offering educational programs around available technologies that can improve their care. Once we create this program, we need to continuously evaluate and improve it. We will establish mechanisms like surveys to determine the effectiveness of the implemented technologies.  

DHI: What are some of the biggest technological challenges currently facing rural hospitals?  

Jimenez: One of the major challenges in healthcare technology is the high cost of adoption. The initial and ongoing expenses can be a burden on rural hospitals that already have limited financial resources. However, if the technology is adopted and maintained correctly, hospitals can benefit greatly from it. On the other hand, if not done correctly, it can cripple a hospital.  

DHI: How have you addressed these challenges, and what solutions have been most effective?  

Jimenez: One of the most effective solutions we have found is educating our employees, providers, and administration on the benefits and necessity of technology in our facility.  Fortunately, our current administration team values technology, allowing our facility to continue to progress our technology.  

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