Critical access and rural hospital facilities that are currently working toward meeting meaningful use requirements will receive nearly $20 million to convert their paper-based medical records to certified electronic health record (EHR) technology.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) made the announcement late last week and said that 1,655 critical access and rural hospitals in 41 states and the nationwide Indian Country, headquartered in the District of Columbia, stand to benefit from this assistance, which will help them qualify for substantial EHR incentive payments from Medicare and Medicaid.
"The benefits of health information technology can be especially important for patients and clinicians in small and rural healthcare facilities, yet these facilities face high hurdles as they look toward joining in the transition to electronic information," HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. "The funding we are announcing today is a new category of support, aimed specifically at assisting critical access and rural hospitals with their particular needs and challenges. This new funding is added to the substantial base we have already built to provide assistance to healthcare providers throughout the country as they transition to EHRs."
The funds are provided under the Health Information Technology Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The HITECH Act created the Medicare and Medicaid EHR incentive programs, which will provide payments to eligible professionals and hospitals that adopt and demonstrate meaningful use of certified EHR technology.
Incentives totaling as much as $27.4 billion over 10 years could be expended under the program, which is administered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. In addition, the HITECH Act provided $2 billion through the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) to support technical assistance, training, and demonstration projects to assist in the nation's transition to EHRs.
The funding will be distributed through one of the ONC programs, the Regional Extension Centers (RECs). RECs provide technical assistance, guidance, and information on best practices to support and accelerate healthcare providers' efforts to become meaningful users of certified EHRs under the Medicare and Medicaid incentives programs. A total of 60 RECs are located throughout the country.
The nearly $20 million is being awarded to 46 RECs, serving providers in 41 states and the nationwide Indian Country. The funding is part of the critical access hospitals and rural hospitals (CAH/Rural Hospital) project, a priority for the REC program. The intent of the project is to provide additional technical support to critical access and rural hospitals with fewer than 50 beds in selecting and implementing EHR systems primarily within the outpatient setting.
"Regional Extension Centers are poised to provide the hands-on, field support needed by healthcare providers to advance the rapid adoption and use of health IT," Dr. David Blumenthal, national coordinator for health IT, said in a statement. "The added level of support we are announcing today will enable the RECs to offer greater field support to these communities as they deal with the financial and workforce constraints, and work to achieve access to broadband connectivity and to overcome other barriers that critical access hospitals and other rural hospitals may confront."
RECs provide a resource for technical assistance, guidance, and information to local healthcare providers on best practices around EHR adoption and meaningful use. RECs are designed to address unique community requirements and to support and accelerate provider efforts to become meaningful users of certified EHR technology.
This round of awards builds on the funding that RECs are already receiving under the HITECH Act, bringing the total amount of funding awarded to date to support the efforts of RECs to over $663 million.