Medicaid HITECH Conference: Regional Extension Centers Drive Meaningful Use

Kimberly Lynch and Mat Kendall | June 6, 2013

Recently we announced an important healthcare milestone – more than 50% of eligible professionals and nearly 80% of hospitals nationwide have adopted or are meaningfully using EHRs.

CMS Medicaid HITECH Conference gathered stakeholders to discuss range of health IT issues

The announcement about EHR adoption and meaningful use was timely, because two weeks ago participants of the Fifth Annual CMS Medicaid HITECH ConferenceExternal Links Disclaimer gathered to discuss the Medicaid EHR Incentive Program, Health Information Exchange and other Health IT-related issues.

This was a great opportunity for State Medicaid agencies, Federal and state partners and industry leaders to continue in their collaborative efforts to:

  • expand and enhance the use of health IT,
  • participate in hands-on training, and
  • engage in interactive breakout sessions.

Conference attendees discussed impact of regional extension centers on meaningful use

At the conference, those of us in ONC’s Office of Provider Adoption and Support (OPAS) were excited to share updates and opportunities created by regional extension centers that are partnered with Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) and Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) – two vital components of the nation’s health care safety net – in adopting and optimizing health IT tools to support more efficient and effective patient care.

To date, more than 132,000 primary care providers are enrolled with the 62 regional extension centers, which equates to more than 43% of the total 303,000 primary care providers in the U.S.

Regional extension centers assist providers practicing in rural areas and FQHCs

Even more importantly, providers working with regional extension centers have a strong presence in underserved settings, particularly in rural areas and with FQHCs. We know that regional extension center enrollment rates are higher for small rural (non-CBSA, 56%) and micropolitan areas (47%) compared to urban or metropolitan areasExternal Links Disclaimer. [1]

In an update to a February 2013 data brief, as of April 2013, 26% of regional extension center-partnered FQHC providers and 27% of regional extension center-partnered CAH/RH providers are demonstrating Meaningful Use through ONC milestones, up from 9% and 14% respectively in November 2012.

Regional extension centers help Medicare providers to receive incentives

In fact, a recent GAO report found that Medicare providers working with a regional extension center were over 2.3 times more likely to receive an EHR incentive payment than those who weren’t.[2] As of February 2013, 60% of all regional extension center-partnered FQHCs providers have received AIU payments and regional extension center providers at FQHCs have already received more than $243 million in incentive dollars!

This is great progress especially for the Medicaid providers who are leading the charge to Meaningful Use in preparation for new payment and care delivery models.  We expect many more Medicaid, Medicare and even those providers not eligible for CMS incentive payments take a similar call to action and achieve meaningful use to demonstrate their commitment to providing better and more comprehensive patient care.

Conference highlighted additional opportunities to support FQHC and CAH/RH providers in health IT

While this is great progress, attendees at the conference learned many opportunities remain to support FQHC and CAH/RH providers’ participation in health IT optimization efforts that leverage and build upon Meaningful Use.

Regional extension centers have demonstrated their effectiveness and impact in support of quality improvement programs. The national network of regional extension centers are currently working on over 300 different programs to help providers transform their practices and enable better health, better care and lower costs.

  • In Kentucky, Illinois, New Jersey, Michigan, New York, Tennessee and many other states, regional extension centers have contracts to provide technical assistance to Medicaid specialists working toward meaningful use.
  • In another example, among providers recognized by the National Committee for Quality Assurance Patient Centered Medical Home model, those partnered with a regional extension center are 76% more likely to be paid for Meaningful Use through the Medicare EHR Incentive program than those not working with a regional extension center, and as of February 2013, providers working with regional extension centers made up 58% of all 2011 PCMH certified providers.

Regional extension centers are transforming practices

As seen by the recent announcement, Meaningful Use of EHRs is accelerating throughout the nation, particularly where providers and practices recognize the role of health IT in enabling quality improvement. Regional extension centers have successfully demonstrated their role as trusted practice transformation agents in supporting providers who serve our nation’s most vulnerable patients.

We would like to hear your thoughts and any success stories you may have with using health IT and/or working with a regional extension center to improve public health in the comments below.


[1] Furukawa M, Samuels C, King J, Adetosoye F, Samy L. Engaging Providers in Underserved Areas to Adopt Electronic Health Records. AJMC, 19(3): 229-234.

CBSA indicates Core Based Statistical Area. HPSA indicates Health Professional Shortage Area.

[2] GAO, Electronic Health Records: Number and Characteristics of Providers Awarded Medicare Incentive Payments for 2011, GAO-12-778R (Washington, D.C.: July 26, 2012).