August 25, 2009 10:28 ET

The Healthcare Debate Hits Home for Tennessee's Elder and Rural Populations

Survey Indicates Technology as a Solution to Improved Patient Care

NASHVILLE, TN--(Marketwire - August 25, 2009) - Healthcare reform, a current hot button headline, is not a new issue. In fact, the concept has been kicking around the Hill since Teddy Roosevelt, who started the discussion of a national health insurance program in the early 1900s.

The goals seem simple enough -- to make healthcare and health insurance more affordable, to provide every American with coverage and to deliver high quality, cost-effective care.

Yet, nearly a century later there is still confusion as the public and private sectors try to figure out how to turn the concept to practical reality. In the meantime, however, the American population continues to age, the need for healthcare across the board persists and each day brings more questions than answers.

Specifically to Tennessee

For Tennesseans, who saw a 7.2 percent increase in personal healthcare spending (between 1991-2004) and collectively spend more than $32 million on personal healthcare annually*, the issue of healthcare reform hits close to home. Even with the promise of two ambitious public insurance programs, TennCare and CoverTN, a fair amount of the population remains uninsured (according to Kaiser, an estimated 14.1 percent).

Nursing homes and elder care are the fastest growing segments of healthcare, often the most expensive, and the changes in healthcare will certainly have far reaching affects among this population. According to the National Association of Rural Health Clinics (NARHC), of the 127 hospitals in Tennessee, 55 are located in rural areas and it is becoming increasingly difficult for community hospitals to make ends meet. Community hospitals also could need more human and capital resources to make changes that certain aspects of healthcare reform would require.

A Step Towards a Solution

According to Maggie O'Hara, Vice President, IVANS, a healthcare information technology services company, "The number one priority of healthcare providers is to provide excellent patient care. The main benefit of technology, in terms of health and medical practices, is that it frees up clinicians and the staff so they can focus more time on the patient than on time-consuming administrative tasks."

A recent survey of more than 500 healthcare providers conducted by the company on the issue of healthcare reform indicated that all is not cut and dry. While respondents, specifically the more than 300 home healthcare and nursing home organizations, believe in the importance of healthcare policy, they are concerned about the toll it will have on patients and providers. "Many of these facilities are already in a tough position with the massive cuts proposed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. These cuts, which include an estimated $1 billion proposed cuts in Tennessee alone, could certainly have a huge impact on the long term care workforce working with the patients and behind the scenes and threaten care quality," O'Hara continued. To that end, she recommends providers, patients and their families arm themselves with as much information as possible, from available services to how much staff time a facility provides to each patient, and so on so they can make informed decisions.

*Figures per Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The survey, which focused on healthcare reform and technology, showed providers are overwhelmingly hopeful that changes to health information technology could have a far-reaching impact -- lowering the cost and improving efficiency of care.

Among the findings:

--  Nearly 70 percent of home healthcare and nursing home organizations
    say that electronic health records (EHRs) will have a positive impact on
    their day-to-day business (a fact echoed by the National Coordinator for
    Health Information Technology, which estimates that the healthcare system
    will save an estimated $140 billion/year if this technology is adopted) and
--  56 percent of respondents have begun to or plan to implement EHRs
    within the next year
--  More than half (52 percent) of providers doubt that stimulus money
    will successfully encourage adoption of healthcare information technology;
--  Providers support the use of Health Information Technology to increase
    quality of care and improve efficiencies
--  Almost three quarters (72 percent) believe a pay-for-performance model
    could lead to improved patient outcomes.

According to Cici Strait, Business Office Manager at Belcourt Terrace Nursing Home, a 49-bed facility in Nashville, TN, "We have learned to be flexible in order to adapt to changes and incorporate common sense to keep costs down but maintaining the level of care. Our priority is ensuring the health and well-being of our patients; so, wherever we can reduce the burden on our staff, including the administrative, and find alternatives to everything from managing hours to processing payments, we will."

For more information, including local facts and figures, more detailed survey results or to schedule an interview with any of the professionals quoted, please contact Ellen Werther @ /212 980 4499

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