A significant gap exists between rural and urban areas when using health information technology at nursing homes, according to a University of Missouri study. Author Greg Alexander says some evidence shows that technology can enhance the quality, safety and efficiency of care at these facilities.

University of Missouri study: rural nursing homes fall behind in technology

“In rural locations, where they have fewer technologies for clinical support, they rely on traditional methods which are paper-based methods, phone calls and faxes, which are typically slower. They are prone to more error,” says Alexander. “The facilities that have good highly-sophisticated technologies with clinical support, they’re infection rates are better.”

Alexander found some rural nursing homes are using creative and highly unsophisticated solutions to help optimize care for patients. For example, pictures were placed on a patient’s door to communicate a certain message about the patient.

“Buildings those kinds of solutions into an electronic system might be really a cool way to develop systems,” says Alexander.

He says lawmakers must be aware of the challenges facing rural health organizations and provide incentives to help rural nursing homes improve their technology.

“All incentives are for acute care. They’re for physicians, ambulatory care and those kinds of places. Long-term care doesn’t have those types of incentives. So the resources that are being put toward those places are less,” says Alexander. “The people that are in those long-term care facilities deserve to have the best care available and the best resources, like anyone else.”

Alexander recommends ongoing assessment of health care technology.

“Long-term care is a space where there’s a great majority of our older people and even some younger people reside for long periods of time. So we need to make the quality of care in those facilities better,” says Alexander.

His study is the first national one about nursing home IT use since 2004.