Improving Health Care in the Appalachian Mountains

Due to widespread poverty among many of its residents, the Appalachian region has long been one of the nation's trouble spots when it comes to health care.

However, learning how to more effectively serve areas like the Appalachians will be an important part of realizing better overall health outcomes in the United States in the future, and it could also help in the process of bringing affordable health coverage to people in other economically distressed places in the U.S. In turn, careers in nursing in Tennessee and other Appalachian states could soon undergo a number of changes.

Bringing electronic health records to the mountains
From radios to televisions to broadband access, Appalachia has long been one of the last places in the country to get access to new technologies. But when it comes to health care, at least one regional system is making the transition to electronic health records (EHRs) at the same pace, or faster than, many of its "low country" counterparts.

The Appalachian Regional Healthcare System recently made a deal that will will help it make the transition to EHRs, a process that it being aggressively promoted throughout the U.S. as part of overall health care reform. ARHS is the largest health care system in the region, according to Healthcare Technology Online, and by setting this example it could lead to greater adoption of EHRs throughout the region.

Decreasing preventable deaths
The hope is that the transition to EHRs, and better overall access to health care technology, will help the Appalachian region overcome some alarming statistics. For instance, its residents suffer from more preventable deaths than just about anywhere else in the country, with avoidable heart disease and strokes being the leading causes.

According to a Vital Signs report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Appalachians, including much of Tennessee, experienced the highest death rates from preventable diseases in the entire U.S. in 2010. Among the many ways the CDC recommends tackling that problem, some of the most prominent were having doctors, nurses and other health care professionals be more explicit with their patients about healthy habits; better follow-through with patients once they've left care; and more incorporation of EHRs to track at-risk patients.

As the Affordable Care Act continues toward full implementation, extending health services to the most underserved regions of the country will be one of the main priorities, and that means an increase in both the amount and difficulty of jobs for registered nurses.

This article is sponsored by Western Governors University, a nonprofit, accredited, online university. WGU offers online RN to BSN, BSN to MSN, and RN to MSN degree programs to working nurses who already have a current RN license. To find out more, please visit

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