Regional Extension Centers Are Enabling Meaningful Use for All

Joshua Seidman | February 18, 2010

A common concern about health information technology (health IT) adoption is that it may not be feasible for small practices and those serving safety-net populations. Due to economies of scale, implementation and meaningful use of health IT is far less daunting for larger, commercial health care organizations. Even so, some small practices and community health centers around the country are actively defying that statement.

It is precisely this reason that, in developing the HITECH legislation, Congress made sure to incentivize providers and deliver support to those who most need it. Last Friday, Feb. 12, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) announced the first cycle of grant awards for 32 Regional Extension Centers (RECs), totaling $375 million.   Additional REC cooperative agreements will be announced in the near future.  The combined REC program will provide support to priority primary care providers in virtually every nook and cranny of the country.

When we at ONC talk about “priority primary care providers,” we’re focusing on solo and small group practices, community and rural health centers, public and critical-access hospitals, and other settings that predominately serve uninsured, underinsured, or medically underserved patients.  Through cooperative agreements, we will work closely with RECs to ensure that primary care providers who need help are provided with an array of on-the-ground support to meaningfully use electronic health records (EHRs).

This help includes, but is not limited to:

  • Unbiased guidance on vendor selection and group purchasing
  • Practice and workflow redesign
  • Functional interoperability and health information exchange (HIE)
  • Project management and implementation
  • Privacy and security best practices
  • Local workforce support
  • Everything involved in ensuring meaningful use of EHRs

With regard to this last point, the RECs will be committed to ensuring that EHRs aren’t just about automation. We know that simply doing the wrong thing faster won’t improve the care delivery system. Meaningful use of EHRs requires important changes that will result in a better, more convenient and efficient care delivery system for clinicians and patients.

In the coming weeks, ONC will be rolling out more components of our HIT Extension Program. In particular, we’ll keep you apprised of our plans for the HIT Research Center (HITRC) that will help provide support and continuity to the RECs and create a virtual community of shared learning. We also will discuss how the Extension Program will be supported by our workforce development efforts, benefit from the leadership of our Beacon Communities, coordinate with our state-based HIE efforts, and build on the innovation work from our Office of the Chief Scientist.