Most Regional Extension Centers still in planning stages

By Bernie Monegain
10:07 AM

Most health IT Regional Extension Centers, funded by the federal government to jump start the adoption of EHRs by physicians in solo and small practices, remain in the planning phase, according to a new survey by eHealth Initiative.

There are 60 regional extension centers (RECs) across the country. The centers are tasked with supporting primary care providers (PCPs) in their effort to achieve meaningful use of certified EHR technology by assessing practice needs, negotiating with vendors, implementing project management and instituting workflow changes.

The survey investigated how RECs are collaborating with several national health information technology initiatives, and how physicians are working with the RECs to drive greater EHR adoption. While many RECs are still in the early developmental stages, the survey found that physicians have signed contracts with the RECs, and the RFP process for selecting recommended EHR vendors will be rapidly moving forward in the coming months. The survey also found that RECs are looking ahead to the time when they must become self-sustaining.

The key findings of the survey are:

  • Many Regional Extension Centers remain in the planning stages.
  • Progress has been slow in transitioning pre-award letters of commitment to signed contracts by primary care providers (PCPs) with a Regional Extension Center.
  • Opinion is evenly divided on progress toward REC objectives being reliant upon assistance from the Health Information Technology Research Center.
  • Among Regional Extension Centers planning to offer a preferred EHR vendor list to PCPs, the most important criteria for selecting a preferred EHR vendor are: price/total cost of ownership over three years; guarantee of meaningful use functionality; the number of installations locally; use of an ASP hosted model
  • After stimulus funds are removed, a majority of Regional Extension Centers will change their fees as a means to sustainability.

Together, the RECs offer targeted assistance to at least 100,000 prioritized primary care providers. Within each REC, the commitment is to serve a minimum of 1,000 over an initial two-year period, representing at a minimum 20 percent of the primary care providers in the geographic service area.

The REC program is allocated $643 million for four years. Funding is weighted to the first two years – $598 million of the total allocated. An additional $45 million is available for years three and four of the program.
Thereafter, the RECs are expected to be self- sustaining.

Since 2004, the eHealth Initiative has tracked the progress of organizations across the country working on health information exchange and health information technology. The eHI survey data on the RECs is self-reported and offers a non-scientific snapshot of the field. eHI invited all 60 Regional Extension Centers to participate in its online survey. The survey was conducted between June 11 and July 28, 2010. Of the 60 RECs polled, 46 of them responded to the survey.

eHI noted that the survey provides baseline data of entities that are in the beginning stages of development. eHI will track the progress of the RECs as they develop over time.

MedPlus, the healthcare information technology subsidiary of Quest Diagnostics, provided eHI support for the survey.