Kentucky: Low population, high on HITECH

Kentucky, a state with roughly four million people – and nothing more than “a fly-over state,” according to its regional extension center leaders – has achieved what many much more populated states have not yet been able to accomplish.

According to Carol Steltenkamp, MD, project director and principal investigator at the Kentucky regional extension center (REC) reports proudly that 100 percent of the state’s critical access hospitals–each with 30 beds or less ¬– have received a portion of meaningful use incentive payments already.

In fact, Kentucky has received some $220 million dollars so far in meaningful use funding. “We are a smaller state, but we’re a state willing to take action,” Steltenkamp told attendees at the Monday morning session titled “A Statewide Model for Coordinating HITECH Programs,” at the 2013 HIMSS Annual Conference & Exhibition.

In addition to a robust REC program, housed at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, Kentucky is also making headway on building its state health information exchange. “People still travel through the state for care, and information has to travel with them,” Steltenkamp says. “This work is critical.”

Kentucky statistics reveal the positive changes observed in the state since HITECH became effective in 2010, and even earlier. In 2013, 52 percent of providers surveyed said they had electronic health records, up from 35 percent in 2008, according to Steltenkamp. That increase does not represent the entirety of the success, because many providers were originally using EHRs for financial and billing purposes, whereas now, they are using them to improve care–meaningfully, Steltenkamp says.

In 2008, some 85 percent of providers were challenged by the cost of EHR adoption, compared to only 54 percent reported this year. Yet another sign of progress, she adds with pride.

Robert Edwards, executive director of the Kentucky regional extension center says the REC is pleased with its progress, which he attributes in part to the already closely connected efforts of many stakeholders over the years. Yet, he doesn’t want the REC to rest on its laurels. The future relies on gathering critical data on how EHRs have improved care. This is the kind of data that will be needed to help drive federal and state policy in favor of EHR adoption, he adds.

“We have got to get in the game of collecting quantitative information to inform patients,” Edwards says. Consumer engagement will be critical in helping to sustain the work long after federal funding for the REC has ended, he adds.

“We have got to get in the game of collecting quantitative information to inform patients.”

Robert Edwards, executive director, Kentucky REC