ONC’s Regional Extension Centers Sign Up 100,000 Primary Care Providers

Mat Kendall; Kimberly Lynch and Lisa-Nicole Sarnowski | November 17, 2011

Today, we’d like to acknowledge an important milestone in our journey toward national electronic health record (EHR) adoption: ONC’s Regional Extension Centers (RECs) have signed up more than 100,000 primary care providers! This means that roughly one third of the nation’s primary care providers have committed to meaningfully using EHRs by partnering with their local REC. Momentum is building!

One- half of the committed providers are in small private practices (38 percent) or small practice consortia (12 percent). The remaining providers are in underserved settings with:

  • 18 percent in community health centers,
  • 11 percent in public hospitals, and
  • 21 percent in other underserved settings, like critical access hospitals, rural health clinics, and practices in medically underserved areas.

This evidence demonstrates that RECs are working with the practices and organizations the program was designed to help—the providers with the least resources to make the transformation to meaningful use of EHRs.

Primary care providers form the foundation of our health care system and are working on the front lines to prevent disease, detect problems early, and manage conditions before they become severe. Their decision to sign up with an REC and make the switch to EHRs illustrates a commitment to improving the quality, safety and effectiveness of care for their patients.

RECs Help Providers Overcome EHR Implementation Challenges

Primary care providers—especially those in small practices and rural areas—face unique and complex challenges when it comes to transitioning from paper-based to electronic records. The average size of these small private practices is two practicing physicians, meaning the RECs are truly serving small practices with minimal resources. Fortunately, providers do not have to make this switch alone.

ONC’s Regional Extension Centers, which are located in every region of the country, serve as a support and resource center to help make the process of EHR implementation or upgrading easier for providers. RECs “bridge the technology gap” by helping providers navigate the EHR adoption process from vendor selection and workflow analysis, to implementation and meaningful use.

Core Service Areas

Some of the REC’s core service areas include:

  • EHR implementation and project management
  • Health IT education and training
  • Vendor selection and financial consultation
  • Practice/workflow redesign
  • Privacy and security
  • Partnering with state and national health information exchange
  • Ongoing technical assistance

Because every primary care practice is different, REC representatives in each state gear their support to meet each individual practice’s needs. And the RECs stay involved with the practice to provide consistent, long-term support – even after the system is up and running.

Momentum is Building

RECs provide support throughout the EHR implementation process–from start to finish–and provide ongoing, long-term support even after an EHR system is up and running.

To date, RECs have assisted thousands of providers with the move from paper-based records to an EHR system. RECs are also currently working with providers across the country to upgrade old EHR systems so they have the functionality necessary to achieve meaningful use.

RECs are working with the State HIT Coordinator in their respective service areas to ensure the various health IT-related programs in the state leverage their respective expertise and collaborate on cross-cutting projects. Health Information Exchanges are being built with input from the REC and other stakeholders to ensure it is a truly networked EHR system which can give providers more accurate and complete information about patients’ health, so they receive the best possible care.

Meaningful Use Vanguards

These benefits have encouraged thousands of providers to commit to becoming Meaningful Use Vanguards (MUVers) who share their EHR adoption lessons. Nearly a third of MUVers (31 percent) are doctors working in small practices, with a median practice size of one provider per practice. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants also play a prominent role in the MUV program–together accounting for approximately one-quarter of all MUVers (14 percent and 10 percent, respectively).

The MUVers are the face of adoption and their stories encourage others to take the road toward the meaningful use of EHRs. They are living proof that making meaningful use of EHRs is achievable, and ultimately helps to improve their practice as well as the quality and effectiveness of care they can provide their patients.

Now Is the Time for Providers to Make the Transition

Recognizing the importance of primary care providers to our country’s health, the Department of Health and Human Services is offering technical assistance programs such as RECs, as well as providing incentive payments through the Medicare & Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs to eligible providers and hospitals that adopt and become meaningful users of EHR technology.

Between the RECs and the incentive programs, now is the time that an unprecedented level of resources exist to help providers make the switch to EHRs. That is why it is the RECs’ priority to help providers both understand the benefits of making the transition, and take full advantage of the supports available to facilitate the change.

Bright Future for EHR Adoption

In partnership with the RECs, these 100,000 primary care providers have taken a major step toward improving the health and health care of their patients through making meaningful use of EHRs.

We would like to commend these providers in taking the step that will help ensure the country stays on track to achieving the national goal of all patients having access to providers using EHRs by 2014.

For more information on RECs