Critical access and rural hospitals in 41 states will get additional technical assistance with implementing electronic health records.
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The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) has awarded critical access hospitals (CAHs) and rural hospitals an additional $12 million to help with technical support as they transition to electronic health records (EHRs).
The funds, announced Tuesday by Dr. David Blumenthal, national coordinator for health IT, will be disbursed through ONC's Regional Extension Center (REC) program, and will provide a variety of support services to 1,777 critical access and rural hospitals in 41 states and the nationwide Indian Country, headquartered in the District of Columbia.
As many of these healthcare delivery organizations face budget constraints, CAHs and rural hospitals with fewer than 50 beds will receive additional technical support as they select and implement EHR systems primarily within the outpatient setting.
According to Blumenthal, critical access and rural hospitals are a vital part of the nation's healthcare system. He also said health IT can offer rural healthcare providers and patients resources and expertise that they can't currently access in their communities.
"We recognize that the transition to electronic health records (EHRs) is a challenge and that rural facilities face even greater challenges to make the transition from paper to electronic records," Blumenthal said in a statement. "This additional funding recognizes the need to address these challenges and represents another important milestone in our commitment to critical access and rural hospitals throughout the country as they transition to EHRs."
As these health delivery organizations adopt and become meaningful users of certified health IT, the funds, provided under the Health Information Technology Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, will help them qualify for EHR incentive payments from Medicare and Medicaid.
The Medicare and Medicaid EHR incentive programs provide payments to eligible professionals, hospitals, and CAHs that adopt and demonstrate meaningful use of certified EHR technology. Incentives totaling as much as $27 billion over 10 years could be expended under the program, which is administered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
In addition, the HITECH Act provided $2 billion through ONC to support technical assistance, training, and demonstration projects to assist in the nation's transition to EHRs.
Serving CAHs and rural hospitals is a priority for the REC program, which provides hands-on 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 incentive programs.
The funding is in addition to the $20 million provided to RECs in September 2010 to provide technical assistance to CAHs and rural hospitals. This latest $12 million round of awards will result in a total of approximately $32 million of funding provided to the RECs to support CAH health IT adoption.