More health IT help coming for primary care

Federal funding increases the number of regional IT assistance centers to 60.

By Chris Silva — Posted April 23, 2010

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The Dept. of Health and Human Services announced April 6 that it was awarding another $267 million to help physicians and hospitals accelerate their adoption of health information technology.

The money is going to 28 nonprofit organizations that will run health IT regional extension centers, which are designed to provide outreach and technical support services largely to primary care practices and facilities. Earlier this year, HHS announced that more than $375 million had been awarded to 32 nonprofits to establish RECs.

The centers provide a local resource for on-site technical assistance, guidance and information on health IT best practices. Officials overseeing the program have said they should be helpful particularly to smaller physician offices that may not have the resources available to larger practices or hospitals.

All 60 REC awardees also have an opportunity to apply for a two-year extension supplemental award, which would ensure that health IT assistance services are available to more than 2,000 of the nation's critical access and rural hospitals, both defined as having 50 beds or fewer. Approximately $25 million is available through this program.

The REC program investment, funded by the stimulus package signed into law by President Obama in early 2009, also is expected to support a large number of jobs, including nurses and pharmacy and IT technicians. The awards are part of a larger, $2 billion effort to achieve widespread meaningful use of health IT and provide use of an electronic medical record to every person by the year 2014.

Earlier this year, HHS also announced the award of more than $380 million to 40 states and qualified state-designated entities to build the capacity for exchanging information rapidly across the health care system. Officials said the State Health Information Exchange Cooperative Agreement Program will help doctors and hospitals become eligible for Medicare and Medicaid EMR adoption incentives. In January, the government issued two sets of proposed regulations outlining how to capture these bonuses.

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