This EHR mandate began with President George W. Bush. The Obama administration added stimulus money to assist with and offset the cost of electronic health record system adoption.
This health information technology funding was appropriated under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act which was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009.
The funding was divided up in multiple ways:
- a) an EHR incentive program, which makes payment directly to health care providers,
- b) Regional Extension Centers to assist providers with the transition and
- c) health information technology workforce development via a consortium of colleges and universities.
How much funding was given to Regional Extension Centers?
$677 Million was allocated for 70 regional extension centers. Their goal is to help at least 100,000 primary care physicians with the transition to electronic health records. This money is separate from and in addition to the money set aside for incentive payments.
HITECH Act funding includes $19.2 billion for the EHR stimulus incentive program. And essentially all of the $19.2 Billion will be paid directly to health care providers who implement electronic health record software and can demonstrate meaningful use of their EHR software.
What do Regional Extension Centers do?
The goal of the 70 Regional Extension Centers (RECs) is to assist primary care physicians (PCPs), public and critical-access hospitals, and community clinics with the adoption and meaningful use of electronic health record software.
Why is the government investing so much money in health information technology?
You may think that close to $20 Billion for a health information technology initiative is a lot of money. But remember: it is part of ARRA, the Stimulus Bill, so one benefit of the expenditure is to stimulate the economy. More importantly, the HITECH Act health care legislation expects to remedy the escalating costs of healthcare in the United States. So, the HITECH Act goals are to reduce costs while improving and ensuring patient safety, healthcare quality and better medical outcomes.
Who is running the Regional Extension Center program?
The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) is providing oversight for the HITECH Act. The current national ONC coordinator is Dr. David Blumenthal, MD, MPP.
There’s also a federal coordinating entity called the Health Information Technology Research Center (HITRC). The HITRC encourages collaboration between the regional extension centers.
The ONC is responsible for EHR certification. The testing and certification is actually done by the ONC-Authorized Testing and Certification Body (ONC-ATCB).
What’s the benefit of a Certified EHR?
Software vendors submit their electronic health record software to the ONC-ATCB. The ONC-ATCB determines whether or not the vendor’s software is a certified EHR. Saying a system is a certified EHR is synonymous with saying it is a meaningful use EMR / EHR.
It’s critical for health care providers to select a certified electronic health record system, if they want to receive incentive payments. Certification means the system contains all the the functionality to enable the health care providers who use it to meet all the meaningful use criteria. And meeting meaningful use criteria means the provider can qualify for the EHR stimulus incentive payments.
Is there a Georgia Regional Extension Center?
Yes there is a Georgia regional extension center called GA-HITREC or Georgia Health Information Technology Regional Extension Center. The Regional Extension Center serving the state of Georgia is administered by Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) and its non-profit arm the National Center For Primary Care (NCPC).
MSM / NCPC has contracted with partner companies to do the actual work of meeting with the primary care physicians, public and critical-access hospitals, and community clinics. The partner companies have the person power to provide direct, individualized and on-site educational and technical assistance services to health care providers.
note: More information about Regional Extension Centers can be found in my next article:
HITECH Act Mandates Electronic Health Records:
Can Regional Extension Centers Help?
There’s help for Georgia Medicare and Medicaid physicians. Call 404-374-3384 for more information about the GA-HITREC.
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