Mass. extension center enrolls 2,500 providers to deploy EHRs

By Mary Mosquera
11:32 AM

The Massachusetts Regional Extension Center has signed up more than 2,500 primary care providers to assist them in becoming meaningful users of health IT, making it the leader of the nation’s 62 centers in meeting its recruitment goal one year into the program.

After enrolling physicians, the next milestone will be for the extension centers to help physicians go live with certified electronic health records (EHRs) with electronic prescribing and quality reporting capabilities, according to a May 25 announcement from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.

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The health IT experience and skills of the extension center staff were crucial to reaching its goal so quickly, said Bethany Gilboard, director of health technologies for the Massachusetts eHealth Institute, which become the extension center in April 2010.

“We have three clinical relationship managers who are exceptional in working with the small physician practice,” she said.

The extension center program established by ONC is charged with helping 100,000 providers to overcome the hurdles of deploying certified EHRs and becoming meaningful users by 2012 to 2014.

Each extension center sets its own goal based on the number of providers that fit the description of a priority primary care provider. The Massachusetts center members include 45 percent of providers in small practices, 29 percent from community health centers, 16 percent from small practice consortia, and 10 percent from public hospitals. 

The center has organized a roadmap that lays out the steps and expectations of physicians, consultants, and vendors to achieve meaningful use. If followed, the center guarantees that providers will qualify as meaningful users to be eligible for Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Gilboard said.

“We take a lot of the guesswork out for the small provider who has no one to turn to,” she said.
Provider members also have access to a special member portal of the extension center website where physicians can ask questions of their colleagues and learn from each other.

The Massachusetts center also systematically canvassed the state with emphasis on community hospitals with less capital resources to support their physicians in the transition to EHRs.

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Staff contacted CIOs at all 72 hospitals in the state and found out if they had a strategy for establishing EHRs. They asked about the number of employed and independent primary care providers associated with the hospital. For those hospitals with a physician hospital organization or an independent practice association, the center offered a wholesale approach to membership for all primary care physicians. Alternatively, they supplied a draft letter that explained the benefits of the extension center and encouraged individual physicians to join.

Center staff also met with providers around the state at hospitals or medical society meetings through 25 educational summits and presentations. Once physicians enroll in the center, they’re invited to local meetings to share stories and hear about the experiences of local physicians who have already migrated to EHRs, known as meaningful use vanguards or MUVers.