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Regional Extension Centers: Essential Elements for Helping Providers Achieve Meaningful Use of EHRs

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By Edie Castello

Across the country, many physician practices are moving toward adoption of electronic health records with the help of regional extension centers (REC). Sixty-two RECs were established to assist providers in achieving “meaningful use” of health information technology.

Although transitioning to EHR can be a challenging process for providers, the Mississippi REC has had significant success working with physician practices on EHR adoption. Currently, the MS REC, which is operated by eQHealth Solutions, has signed up 615 providers.

Our REC project officer, David Bergman, says this represents the highest percentage of primary care providers signing up for assistance in the nation.

These results did not come by chance. They come from years of experience that began in Louisiana where we have supported more than 750 providers as they convert to electronic health records. This prior work has allowed our team to cull five essential elements that we believe are crucial for building a nimble, effective REC. These include:

1.  Comprehensive Technical Assistance – Participating in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Doctor’s Office Information Technology program (DOQ-IT) gave eQHealth Solutions the opportunity to build field-tested information technology expertise. During live conversions, we discovered and delivered a component missing from many EHR vendor packages: continuous technical assistance for staff members struggling to redesign office workflow compatible with the new EHR system.

2.  Individualized HIT Implementation Support – Because each medical practice faces unique challenges, the REC must design an individualized implementation plan for each practice and be equipped to see the plan through. This requires a solid understanding of the major components of EHR meaningful use. The eQHealth team developed an in-depth summary on meaningful use with details about criteria, quality measures, reporting requirements, eligibility and funding incentives, which is available on the Delta Health Alliance website.

3.  In-House IT Resources – Having designed HIT solutions for several state Medicaid programs, eQHealth Solutions understands the importance of resourcing a robust in-house information technology infrastructure. Keeping this resource close makes support immediately available even in the face of the continuing variation of EHR system needs during a conversion.

4.  Staffing – Many RECs are having difficulties identifying and recruiting staff. We were able to overcome this barrier. Our past experience, as well as our connections in the IT, project management and clinical fields allowed us to quickly identify, hire and train qualified staff. Looking to existing clinical and IT connections for staffing support is a strategy that we strongly recommend.

5.  Maintaining Stakeholder Relationships – Our 13-year relationship as a contractor with the Mississippi Division of Medicaid has allowed us to establish relationships with the Mississippi provider community and other stakeholders. By leveraging this support, our team was able to quickly identify providers interested in adopting an EHR and who would work with us. This was instrumental in so many providers signing agreements with the REC so quickly. We suspect those organizations leveraging stakeholder relationships established before becoming an REC will gain traction and success more quickly.

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Read the American Medical News story on current Mississippi Regional Extension Center success.

For an in-depth summary of EHR meaningful use, including details about criteria, quality measures, reporting requirements, eligibility and funding incentives developed by eQHealth’s HIT team check out the Delta Health Alliance website.

Additional information on REC program is available on the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology website.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.eqhssmarterhealthcare.org/regional-extension-centers-helping-achieve-ehr-meaningful-use/

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