$80M more for RECs, HIEs and workforce programs

By Mary Mosquera
09:11 AM

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT has awarded a total of $80 million more to boost regional extension centers, state health information exchanges and community college workforce programs. The programs, launched last year, are designed to support the uptake and meaningful user of electronic health records.

For extension centers (RECs), which offer local technical assistance to individual physicians and small practices, ONC has provided $32 million in additional funds. The money will accelerate outreach to providers to encourage registration in the EHR incentive program and to direct more staff in the field to help doctors in their practices, said David Blumenthal, MD, the national health IT coordinator, in a Jan. 27 letter announcing the awards.

[Read about the REC program and see a full list of grantees: HHS grants $267 million for more regional extension centers, thousands of jobs.]

“We recognize that the early transition to health IT can be challenging, and we want to make sure that our RECs are fully operational to help make this transition as smooth as possible,” he wrote. “We are committed to offer substantial ongoing support to achieve meaningful use through the RECs.”

ONC established 62 extension centers across the nation to help physicians and small rural hospitals and those that treat underserved populations adopt and use electronic health records.. To date, 38,000 providers have signed up for services that include vendor selection, project management and workflow redesign, Blumenthal said.

[See: HHS announces $162 million in 16 state HIE grants.]

ONC will share the lessons learned and best practices of the extension centers as it tracks their performance.

ONC also directed $16 million to 10 statewide health information exchanges (HIEs) as challenge grants to encourage breakthrough innovations to support nationwide health information exchange and interoperability between systems.
 
The HIE Challenge Grants of between $1 million and $2 million each will concentrate on five critical areas related to sharing patient information, including accomplishing specific health goals, improving care transitions and enhanced querying for patient care.

Among the awardees are Colorado Regional Health Information Organization, Georgia Department of Community Health, Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and HealthShare Montana.

Statewide health information exchanges will enable secure information sharing among local and regional organizations and, when complete, across the nation. To date, ONC has approved exchange implementation plans for 25 states.

Community colleges that have developed training programs for specialists in the health IT workforce to staff extension centers and providers’ offices have received $32 million in second year funding.
Blumenthal said the 84 community colleges are “on track to ramp up and graduate an estimated 10,500 students a year.”