ONC’s RECs Prepare to Provide Meaningful Use Help

To support the adoption and meaningful use of electronic health records, ONC has funded 60 Regional Extension Centers (RECs) across the country. The goal of the RECs is to provide outreach, education, and on-site technical assistance to support 100,000 primary care physicians implementing electronic health records (EHRs) into their practices and working to attain meaningful use of their systems. The RECs received $643 million in federal funds for the next two years and will receive an additional $42 million in subsequent years to help physicians make the transition to EHRs.

Electronic health records and health IT have the potential to improve the quality, safety, and efficiency of health care, so each REC must be prepared to help  providers find the best system for their needs while managing the effects of health IT implementation on the practice. To that end, ONC is hosting five regional meetings this summer to provide REC staff members with an opportunity to receive hands-on training about the new meaningful use regulations, as well as to share best practices with one another.

The first three meetings, held recently in Kansas City, MO, Providence, RI, and Nashville, TN, created opportunities for the regional REC staff to get together in an environment that encouraged learning and information sharing. Conference participants attended educational sessions and were given the opportunity to network with CMS employees, their state partners, health information exchange colleagues, and ONC staff from other programs.  The remaining regional meetings will be held in Chicago, IL, on August 10-11, and Salt Lake City, UT, on August 17-18.

As part of ONC’s effort to increase outreach and support to primary care providers, the Office of Provider Adoption Support (OPAS) meets with each REC at each regional meeting in order to better understand their unique program goals, opportunities, and challenges.  Additionally, the conference sessions are designed to give REC participants the practical hands-on training they’ll need to help their providers achieve meaningful use. Participants were eager to learn what other programs were doing and, during group sessions, they were able to share ideas, lessons learned, and best practices.

These summer meetings are also an opportunity to familiarize the RECs with the support tools made available to them in the REC program.  Those tools will help the RECs continue to collaborate online and share ideas away from the face-to-face time that the regional meetings provide.

ONC continues to educate the RECs on the process of getting the nation’s physicians to meaningful use.  OPAS is always interested in input from our stakeholders on the messages that are most important to convey to the RECs as they work to support the widespread adoption of health IT among the nation’s healthcare community.   We welcome your feedback and ideas.

4 Comments

  1. Brian Ahier says:

    I think the RECs are potentially at greatest risk of becoming a failure point for the effort at EHR adoption. They will have a very difficult task and there simply is not enough money for each provider, not to mention the critical access hospitals, to get the job done. There are also concerns about favoritism when dealing with vendors, which if not adequately addressed could lead to litigation. Also I think it is more accurate to say the RECs have been allocated $643 million in federal funds for the next two years – they have not yet received all of these funds.

    There seems to be much less transparency in the work and planning of the RECs than other areas and programs the ONC oversees. I hope to see a great deal more information on the work of the RECs and this blog post is a wonderful start. The accountability for the use of these millions of dollars of public funds should be as open and transparent as possible to maintain the trust of the provider community as well as Congress and the American people.

  2. Tom the x-ray man says:

    Leave it to the government to complicate, complicate, complicate and waist millions of dollars. RECs to support the adoption and meaningful use of electronic health records. We need RECs like we need a pile of cow dung. Physician already know what to do with patient medical records. They have been sharing patient records for years!

  3. Latoya Thomas says:

    The National Health IT Collaborative for the Underserved (NHIT) recognizes the audacious tasks and timelines that Regional Extension Centers (RECs) face in providing education, outreach and technical assistance to providers throughout the US, and preparing them for the adoption and meaningful use of electronic health records (EHRs). As an organization committed to help ensure that, with respect to health information technology, no community is left behind; we totally endorse the aim of supporting 100,000 primary care physicians in becoming “meaningful users” of EHRs. We are aware of EHR benefits in terms of the “quality, safety and efficiency of health care”, particularly for those populations who experience health disparities and less than optimal health services. We at NHIT are in full agreement RECs can play a crucial role in achieving the goals of HHS, the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), as well as the intent of Congress as expressed in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

    There are certain realities, however, that impact on the ability of RECs to fulfill their potential. Reaching providers most in need of assistance – those caring for underserved populations, particularly communities of color – requires an understanding of several key issues that impact their ability to benefit from REC services. These providers are often working in small practices that struggle to make ends meet. They serve the poor and are often reimbursed at rates that do not cover their costs. In fact, in many communities most Medicaid beneficiaries are seen in small private practices. It is clear that these providers will need special assistance in the form of financing in order to make the upfront investments in technology required. In addition, making the transition to EHRs will require these providers to make major changes in their practices. They will need assistance from knowledgeable consultants and trained HIT and health information management (HIM) workers to install and maintain new practices and systems, while minimizing “down-time” and lost revenues.

    A major challenge faced by RECs in getting the word out to providers in underserved communities to inform them about REC services and the availability of CMS incentives. Our experience confirms the value of building strategic partnerships. In order to truly have the greatest impact, RECs must develop key partnerships with advocates and community organizations in their region. That requires innovative and culturally appropriate approaches to education and outreach that are tailored to each community’s needs. Whether those advocates are in the form of staff, health industry representatives, consultants, subcontractors, or committed community organizations such as ours, these partners must be welcomed or cultivated, trained and engaged to disseminate messages designed, with community inputs, to inform, guide and prepare providers for their next steps in EHR adoption.

    Over the past year, ONC and CMS through the support of the ARRA have invested in health IT related projects and programs all over the country, including 60 Regional Extension Centers and the Medicaid/Medicare EHR Incentive Program, all supporting the larger goal of ensuring that every patient has an electronic health record (EHR). While we support the Administration’s ambitious goal, we also would like to stress the importance for the Administration to finance an effective education and outreach strategy to communities – consumers and providers – so that they will be aware of these investments and will be able to benefit from them. NHIT adheres to this fundamental principle of effective communication with community stakeholders and advocates.

    Failure to engage and introduce HIT to underserved populations, rural communities, communities with limited English proficiency, communities of color and other marginalized populations can exacerbate the health disparities that the nation can ill afford. Underserved communities will suffer the most if the healthcare facilities that they rely on for their care and treatment are inoperable or out of business. Investing in effective communications to these groups will go a long way to guarantee the RECs reputation as a trusted and reliable source for HIT adoption.

    We cannot emphasize enough the importance of charging RECs with the mandate to leave no community behind in their attempts to provide crucial support in the adoption and utilization of EHRs. We realize that there is a lot of ground to cover, but engaging organizations like NHIT and incorporating an “all hands on deck” approach will yield the outcomes so urgently needed to counter health inequities and provide quality health care to those who need it most.

  4. Chad - The PC Error Guy says:

    I don’t agree that the government makes it more complicated, nor do they waste millions of dollars. We do need a more centralized way of sharing information electronically

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