Differences in readiness between rural hospitals and primary care providers for telemedicine adoption and implementation: findings from a statewide telemedicine survey.

J Rural Health. 2012 Jan;28(1):8-15. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-0361.2011.00369.x. Martin AB, Probst JC, Shah K, Chen Z, Garr D. South Carolina Rural Health Research Center, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina Executive Director, South Carolina AHEC, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina.

Purpose: Published advantages of and challenges with telemedicine led us to examine the scope of telemedicine adoption, implementation readiness, and barriers in a southern state where adoption has been historically low. We hypothesized that rural hospitals and primary care providers (RPCPs) differ on adoption, readiness, and implementation barriers. We examined the degree to which they differ on (a) telemedicine adoption or readiness; (b) telemedicine training needs; (c) current use of technology for patient care; and (d) environmental concerns in facilities for telemedicine.

Methods: Paper surveys were sent to rural hospitals and RPCPs with response rates of 50% (n = 38) and 25.9% (n = 339), respectively. Three of 4 hospitals were represented. Chi-square analyses were used to test for differences between rural hospitals and RPCPs.

Findings: Compared to RPCPs, rural hospitals were significantly more likely to report higher rates of telemedicine knowledge (P= .0007); planning for or implementing telemedicine (P < .0001); and reporting their disaster recovery data systems (P= .0002) and availability and location of outlets and connections (P= .03) as adequate for telemedicine. Rural hospitals were less likely to report having no telemedicine education needs (P= .04).

Conclusions: Telemedicine continues to be a viable solution for bridging geographic access gaps to a variety of specialty care. Users need assistance in understanding legal implications, care coordination, billing for services, and disaster data recovery. In rural areas, hospitals appear to best embody characteristics of facilities that successfully implement telemedicine and have the greatest degree of readiness.

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