RECs surpassed their goals to increase EHR adoption

Kimberly Lynch and Mat Kendall | February 13, 2014

Happy Birthday RECs!

This month marks the 4th birthday of the Regional Extension Center (REC) Program, and what a four years it’s been! We thought we’d take this chance to talk about some of the accomplishments that REC’s achieved in the past few years, and how their partnership with providers continues in leveraging health IT to improve care.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, the percent of physicians using an advanced EHR system was just 28 percent in 2010. In 2009, about one in five physicians used a basic EHR, and EHR adoption rates lagged even further among physicians in small practices with fewer than ten physicians, physicians in rural areas, and other providers who disproportionately care for the underserved. Now, more than 50 percent of eligible professionals have demonstrated meaningful use and received an incentive payment as part of the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Payment Program which is administered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

For hospitals, just nine percent had adopted EHRs in 2008, but today, more than 80 percent have demonstrated meaningful use of EHRs.

Cumulative number and proportion of REC primary care providers enrolled, live on an EHR, and demonstrating meaningful use (MU) over time

Select image for larger view

RECs have played a critical role in this transformation, working with over 136,000 (nearly half) of the nation’s primary care providers (PCPs), helping 90 percent (over 123,000) of those providers adopt an EHR system and 62 percent (over 85,000) demonstrate stage 1 meaningful use.

RECs have far exceeded their goal to support the adoption and use of health IT by 100,000 small practices, community health centers, and rural and public hospitals, and while continuing to support providers to reach meaningful use, are now focusing their efforts on helping these health care providers use the technology for care delivery transformation and improvement.

In addition to nearly half of the nation’s 300,000 total PCPs being partnered with an REC (44 percent), REC penetration is even higher for rural PCPs (53 percent), Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) and FQHC Look-Alikes (83 percent) and critical access hospitals (CAHs, 78 percent). Across these settings, EHR adoption ranges from a high of 93 to a low of 84 percent, and meaningful use ranges from 41 to 47 percent.

RECs are also involved in CMS’ Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation practice transformation and delivery system redesign efforts: 53 percent of Comprehensive Primary Care Initiative sites and 82 percent of the Medicare FQHC Advanced Primary Care Practice Demonstration Programs are partnered with an REC. Additionally, RECs support over 10,000 specialists committed to health IT adoption and meaningful use. A recent study found providers working with RECs were 1.9 times more likely to have received incentive funds through the EHR incentive program.

Leveraging the REC Investment

RECs have demonstrated tremendous results in assisting providers with adoption and MU of EHRs. However, to effectively use health IT to improve health, healthcare, and to help control costs, it will require continued hard work, focus and support. Building on lessons learned with MU of EHRs, RECs are forging ahead right now to assist providers committed to improving care through new delivery and payment reform programs, many of which include MU measures as program milestones or requirements.

As part of the birthday celebration, we recently released The Health IT Regional Extension Center Program: Evolution and Lessons for Health Care Transformation, issued in Health Services Research. The paper further explores the REC program’s accomplishments and as trusted advisors to providers, their role as change agents for not only health IT adoption, but technology for care delivery transformation and improvement. RECs championed Health IT adoption and optimization of EHRs, enabling providers to become meaningful users and engage in much needed health care transformation and quality initiatives.

Over the coming weeks, we will be sharing more from individual RECs on their unique accomplishments in health IT adoption, meaningful use and care transformation. Check back to hear about how they help control hypertension and reducing heart disease via Million Hearts® in Wisconsin, Utah and Oklahoma, Direct messaging in Tennessee, Accountable Care Organizations in Minnesota and North Dakota, the Comprehensive Primary Care Initiative in New Jersey and Arkansas, and State Innovation Models in Vermont and Maine, and much more! To find out more about the REC program, make sure to check-out our website.

Learn more about the RECs practice transformation support at

And, a big thank you to the ONC REC team past and present: Larry Jessup, Carmel (Kiki) Halloun, Bianca Costa, Ryan Dowski, Reena Samantaray, Tevon Taylor, Fadesola Adetosoye, Peter Keesey, Michelle Consolazio, Emily Anozie, Jim Daniel, Wanda Govan-Jenkins, Ahmed Haque, Tiffany Butler, Leila Samy, Tim Wade, Sharon Colby-Elborn, Danielle Sims, Jennifer Cramer, Crystal Fowler, Wendy Kilgore, Cinyon Reed, Michael Yesenko, Monifa Constant, Dawn Heisey-Grove, Tom Novak, Jane Gelbmann, John Norman, Laura Rosas, Kellie Hawkins, Yolanda Thompson-Teagle, Fred Griefer, Paul Klintworth, Lisa Lewis, Chitra Mohla, Kimberly Wilson, Arlene Ramsey, Lisa-Nicole Sarnowski, Kim Tavernia, Maggie Wanis and Nickol Todd.