Hospitals in rural areas are increasing their use of sophisticated medical technology when possible to meet the needs of the community and to prevent patients from going outside of the community for their care, experts say.
Though rural facilities typically are hampered by lower patient volumes and more limited access to funding, advanced equipment is becoming more commonly found outside of urban areas.
“The types of technology being adopted in rural areas are more complex than they have been,” says James Keller, vice president of health technology evaluation and safety for the ECRI Institute, a not-for-profit that evaluates medical technology. Rural facilities typically don't ride the first wave of implementation of a new or updated technology, but can be found buying second generations or later of the newest technologies, he says.
Among the technologies increasingly found among rural hospitals, including critical-access hospitals, are MRIs, CT scanners, digital mammography equipment and even robotic surgery equipment.
“We're seeing da Vinci robots being bought all over the place,” says Jennifer Myers, vice president of ECRI's Select Health Technology Services, a decision support technology service, referring to robotic surgical systems.
The equipment doesn't come cheap. ECRI data from clients indicate that a 1.5 Tesla MRI costs an average of $1.6 million, a 16-slice CT scanner costs $330,000 and digital mammography equipment costs about $322,000.
And like their urban counterparts, rural hospitals face different circumstances that lead them to come to a variety of decisions regarding what technology to invest in and what bells and whistles to include—but a desire to remain competitive is a recurring theme.
The following rural hospitals recently completed technology additions or upgrades, each taking a different tack for a different set of reasons.