Recommendation 12. The National Library of Medicine, in collaboration with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, should establish regional information and communications technology/telehealth resource centers that are interconnected with the National Network of Libraries of Medicine. These resource centers should provide a full spectrum of services, including the following:
Information resources for health professionals and consumers, including access to online information sources and technical assistance with online applications, such as distance monitoring.
Lifelong educational programs for health care professionals.
An on-call resource center to assist communities in resolving technical, organizational, clinical, financial, and legal questions related to information and communications technology.
Rural communities should focus on improving both personal and population health programs to realize the greatest improvement in health and health care. An integrated approach to identifying priorities and allocating resources is needed. It will also be necessary to cultivate a new cadre of health care leaders capable of viewing clinical care within the broader context of population health and building communitywide collaborative structures.
The federal government should establish a Rural Quality Initiative to assist rural communities and providers in acquiring the knowledge and tools needed to improve quality. Steps should be taken immediately to ensure that rural communities are not left behind in the many quality-related initiatives, including standardized performance measurement, public reporting, and pay-for-performance programs.
It will also be important to remain vigilant in addressing long-standing shortages of health professionals pursuing practice in rural settings, while at the same time taking steps to better prepare health professionals to provide quality care in rural environments. ICT is a transformational tool that has great potential to improve health and health care. Federal financial and technical assistance will be required to ensure that rural providers transition from paper to electronic health records, and that rural communities benefit fully from the ICT infrastructure being built over the coming decade.