Massachusetts REC gains traction

By Bernie Monegain
12:26 PM

The Massachusetts eHealth Institute expects 600 physicians and small practices will be signed up by the end of October for health IT consulting services, which it is offering as one of 60 regional extension centers (RECS) now courting health IT newcomers throughout the country.

The Massachusetts REC had 300 clinicians under contract to receive onsite technical assistance on selecting and installing electronic health record systems and learning how to use new technology most effectively, according to its director, Dr. Richard Shoup in an Oct. 21 presentation hosted by HIMSS.

Like many of the RECS funded by the Office of the National Coordinator, the Massachusetts REC has worked to reach clinicians in multiple ways, including through state chapters of professional organizations, such as the American Academy of Internal Medicine, Shoup said.

Those efforts put the Institute, a division of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, on track to meet its goal of providing technical services to 2,500 physicians by the end of January 2011, he said.

On a practical level, "we're there to enable and take a lot of the guesswork out of the process for these providers because it can be overwhelming," he said. But the job is more than meeting numbers and deadlines.

"It's about creating a sustainable EHR culture," Shoup said. "Technology is not an end in itself. The end is improving the healthcare system through healthcare reform."

The Institute has already conducted in-person and online briefings throughout the state covering EHR adoption and meaningful use. It has also enlisted a group of physician "champions" to talk about the REC's services with other clinicians, Shoup said. The institute hosts a public Web site and member portal and conducts outreach in various languages to accommodate the varied cultures in the state.

Among the REC's staff, clinical relationship managers represent the main contact with physicians and help with enrollment online and in person, as well as provide orientation and guidance about vendors that fit the needs of their practice, he said.

Soon, the REC will make available a comparison tool based on vendor product pricing and features.

The Institute offers its clients discounts of 17 percent from among its 10 preferred technology vendors. It also helps physicians set up banking relationships for loans to cover the cost of setting up the EHRs. The loan payoff payments are timed to when providers receive payments for meeting the criteria for meaningful use.

The REC also offers clients the services of 17 implementation and optimization organizations, vendors or healthcare organizations who can assist health IT newcomers deploy their new EHRs, get them operational and integrated with the practice workflow, Shoup said.

The REC has a program management office in place to ensure set-up is done in a timely manner and "with a very high level of provider satisfaction," he said. "Our efforts are focused on ensuring their ability to meet meaningful use and to get the EHR incentives," he said.