Advancing Adoption, Interoperability and Transformation – Regional Extension Centers Surpass 100,000 Providers to Stage 1 Meaningful Use

Dr. Karen B. DeSalvo and Kimberly Lynch | September 17, 2014

In February 2014 we highlighted our regional extension centers’ (REC) success in supporting adoption of electronic health records (EHRs), and today, during National Health IT Week 2014, we are proud to announce the RECs have surpassed their goal and  now support over 100,000 providers to demonstrate Stage 1 Meaningful Use.

The RECs cut across and deeply penetrate all health care settings, geography, and specialty across the U.S., focusing on primary care and rural and underserved providers. RECs are partnered with over 150,000 providers across the country – 44 percent (139,000) of all primary care providers and more than 13,000 specialists – and helped 91 percent (over 139,000) of those providers adopt an electronic health record (EHR) system. The REC network also includes 54 percent of all rural providers, 80 percent of all critical access hospitals (CAHs), and 83 percent of all community health centers. A recent study found providers working with an REC were nearly twice as likely to earn an EHR incentive payment.

Through their work, RECs have developed strong relationships with the nation’s providers, establishing themselves as a credible and capable resource. This trust is all the more important as many small practices are also small businesses, and the livelihood of these providers, their staff and the neighbors they serve are impacted by the tremendous technological investments and operational changes practices make to provide better care.

Not only is ONC recognizing the impact of the RECs in supporting the nation’s providers, but the greater community is advocating for this exact type of technical assistance and support that RECs provide. In May 2014, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), published a report recommending a large-scale technical assistance initiative, building on existing work such as the RECs, to health-care professionals and communities to provide hands-on support to small practices to develop the capabilities, skills, and tools to provide better, more coordinated care to their patients. Another study found EHR implementation alone was not sufficient to improve quality of care. Only those providers who received high levels of technical assistance (eight or more visits) with EHR implementation improved quality. Even relatively long periods of EHR use – up to two years – were not associated with quality improvement for physicians who received no technical assistance or only moderate levels of assistance.  Meanwhile, as providers begin to transform care through and beyond meaningful use criteria, RECs will continue to be critical in demonstrating how health IT can be used to measure and improve quality.

Today, 93 percent of RECs are expected to be sustainable at the conclusion of the initial ONC investment.  We are proud of the hard work of the RECs and the dedication to bring 100,000 primary care providers to achieve meaningful use.  We look forward to the much more being done – and yet to be done – to achieve the vision of better health and better health care.

Throughout National Health IT Week and the following weeks, we will feature a series of blog posts from RECs telling stories big and small of increased access and better care for patients by accelerating the adoption and use of health IT tools. This improves the capacity for patients, providers and states for health IT-enabled information exchange, interoperability and new care delivery and payment system transformation.  For example, already, over 5,000 providers receive advanced care delivery (e.g. ACO, Million Hearts) support and over 200 practices are actively receiving support to become Medical Homes through the REC program.


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