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EHR Adoption Rates Increase with Aid from Local RECs

Emily Jones and Kimberly Lynch | March 21, 2013

Leaders, clinicians, and community board members of the nation’s Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) are meeting in Washington this week to engage in collaborative learning and celebrate their journey towards meaningful use. They will also be comparing notes about what works, and what doesn’t in their adoption of health information technology. Specifically they will be discussing how EHR adoption rates have significantly increased when a health center engages a local Regional Extension Center (REC).

RECs Spur EHR Adoption in Health Centers

A recent ONC data brief shows that health center providers who work with an REC are more likely to utilize electronic health records, compared with providers who practice in other settings. The EHR adoption rate is 79% and 71% respectively. Health center providers who work with RECs earned a combined $209 million from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) Medicare and Medicaid Incentive Payment Program through September 2012.

We see EHR adoption rates accelerating across the country; particularly where practice leadership, clinicians and staff recognize the role of health information technology in quality improvement, such as in the medical home or Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH) models of care, our data brief found. It is through the REC partnership and financial support from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) that 20% of all community health centers have attained PCMH recognition and certification, HRSA data show.

In addition, 500 community health centers participating in the CMS Innovation Center’s Medicare Advanced Primary Care Practice Demonstration Program are expected to reach Level-3 PCMH recognition from the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) by November 2014, CMS has found.  The EHR adoption and meaningful use of health information technology is foundational to these efforts.

What Are RECs Proving to Health Centers that is Spurring EHR Adoptions?

RECs are proven practice transformation agents supporting FQHCs as they seek to strengthen the health IT infrastructure and improve the quality of care provided to the vulnerable patients they serve. More than 8 in 10 community health centers have providers enrolled with an REC, which translates into 18,268 clinicians who receive:

  • education,
  • training,
  • technical assistance, and
  • practice coaching from the extension centers.

As of January 1, 2013, all 62 RECs are actively working with approximately 132,000 primary care providers and more than 11,000 specialists.

More than 20 million patients are served annually by community health centers.

HRSA encourages health IT adoption among community health center providers by funding information technology infrastructure, as well as through the Health Center Controlled Network (HCCN) program. In partnership with HRSA, the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) provides training and technical assistance related to health IT.

The NACHC Policy and Issues Forum is happening this week at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, DC.

Case Study: REC Aids Unity Health Care with EHR Adoption  

Unity Health Care, which served over 100,000 patients in 2012, is an ideal example. Located in the District of Columbia, Unity recently earned the Nicholas E. Davies Award of Excellence. The award is given annually by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) for outstanding achievement in the implementation and value from health IT, especially electronic health records (EHRs).

ONC data suggests that Regional Extension Centers (RECs) are providing crucial support to these front-line providers in underserved communities. Dr. Angela R. Diop summed up the success and scale of working with their REC, saying: “Unity Health Care’s partnership with the DC REC was a tremendous help in readying our organization for Meaningful Use.”

“We worked with the REC to train our trainers, who in turn trained nearly 900 of our staff members in what is required to effectively use our EHR to meet MU,” Diop, the vice president for information systems at Unity, said. Almost 4 in 5 health center providers who partner with RECs are live with an electronic health record (EHR).  Follow the Policy and Issues Forum on Twitter #NACHCpi and follow us @ONC_HealthIT.

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