HHS Funds Centers to Spur Physician Adoption of EHRs


Looking to buy or implement an electronic health record in your practice? Help is on the way.

The Department of Health and Human Services has awarded more than $640 million in grants to set up regional extension centers around the country, with the goal of helping physicians and hospitals achieve “meaningful use” of electronic health record (EHR) technology. At press time, several centers were preparing to enroll physicians.

The staff at these regional extension centers will work “elbow to elbow” with physicians, Dr. David Blumenthal, national coordinator for health information technology, said during a press conference to announce the final round of regional extension center grants.

In April, HHS awarded more than $267 million in grants to 28 nonprofit organizations that will set up Health Information Technology Regional Extension Centers. This builds on more than $375 million in grants that the agency awarded for 32 regional extension centers in February. The funding is part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The main goal of the regional extension centers is to help physicians and other health care providers to become meaningful users of EHRs, even as the standard for meaningful use is being defined through federal rule making.

Under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, a part of the 2009 federal stimulus law, physicians who treat Medicare patients can earn up to $44,000 over 5 years for the meaningful use of a certified health information systems. Those with patient populations of at least 30% Medicaid can earn up to $64,000 in federal incentive payments.

To help physicians become meaningful users, the regional extension centers will provide a broad range of services, Dr. Blumenthal said, from helping physicians select the most appropriate equipment for their practice through the implementation of the products. The centers also will help practices purchase technology in groups at reduced prices, he said.

“We hope that these regional extension centers will help providers improve their workflow using electronic health records, improve the quality and efficiency of the care they can provide using electronic health records, and of course thereby increase the efficiency and quality of care available to the American people,” Dr. Blumenthal said.

Farzad Mostashari, a senior adviser in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, encouraged physicians to enroll with their regional extension center as soon as possible, even before they make a decision about purchasing an EHR product.

The stimulus law directs the regional extension centers to give priority for direct technical assistance to primary care providers. The agency defines primary care as family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, or obstetrics and gynecology.

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