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ONC to provide additional funding to accelerate critical access and rural hospitals’ switch to electronic health records

Posted Feb 08 2011 12:01am

Dr. David Blumenthal, MD, MPP, national coordinator for health information technology in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) today announced an additional $12 million in new technical support assistance to help critical access hospitals (CAHs) and rural hospitals adopt and become meaningful users of certified health information technology. Today’s funding announcement will come through ONC’s Regional Extension Center (REC) program to provide a wide range of support services  to the 1,777 critical access and rural hospitals in 41 states and the nationwide Indian Country, headquartered in the District of Columbia, to help them qualify for substantial EHR incentive payments from Medicare and Medicaid.  This funding is in addition to the $20 million provided to RECs in September 2010 to provide technical assistance to the CAHs and Rural Hospitals.

“Critical access and rural hospitals are a vital part of our healthcare system.  Health information technology can offer rural health care providers and their patients resources and expertise that may not be currently available in their communities.  We recognize that the transition to electronic health records (EHRs) is a challenge and that rural facilities face even greater challenges to make the transition from paper to electronic records,” Dr. Blumenthal said.  “This additional funding recognizes the need to address these challenges and represents another important milestone in our commitment to critical access and rural hospitals throughout the country as they transition to EHRs.”

The new funding is provided under the Health Information Technology Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The HITECH Act created the Medicare and Medicaid EHR incentive programs, which will provide incentive payments to eligible professionals, eligible hospitals, and CAHs that adopt and demonstrate meaningful use of certified EHR technology. Incentives totaling as much as $27.4 billion over 10 years could be expended under the program, which is administered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. In addition, the HITECH Act provided $2 billion through ONC to support technical assistance, training, and demonstration projects to assist in the nation’s transition to EHRs.

The additional CAHs and rural hospital funding will be administered through ONC’s Regional Extension Center (REC) program.  The RECs are specifically designed to offer a wide range of hands-on technical assistance, guidance, and information on best practices to support and accelerate health care providers’ efforts to become meaningful users of certified EHRs under the Medicare and Medicaid incentives programs. A total of 62 RECs are located throughout the country.  This additional funding is being awarded 48 RECs serving CAH and rural hospitals provides in 41 states and the nationwide Indian Country.

Serving CAHs and rural hospitals is a priority for the REC program. The intent of this supplement is to provide additional technical support to critical access and rural hospitals with fewer than 50 beds in selecting and implementing EHR systems primarily within the outpatient setting.   The national distribution of RECs make them a particularly effective program  to provide community-based hands-on, field support needed  to overcome unique barriers that CAHs and rural hospitals may confront as they work to adopt and meaningfully use health IT.

Today’s $12 million round of awards will result in a total of approximately $32 million of  funding provided to the RECs to support CAH health IT adoption. The awards announced today available here.

A complete listing of REC grant recipients and additional information about the Health Information Technology Regional Extension Centers may be found at http://www.HealthIT.hhs.gov/programs/REC/ .

For information about the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs, see http://www.cms.gov/EHRIncentivePrograms

For information about the Recovery Act at HHS, see http://www.hhs.gov/recovery .

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