HHS Expands Health IT Centers - InformationWeek

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Healthcare // Electronic Health Records

HHS Expands Health IT Centers

Funds totaling $267 million will be given by the Department of Health and Human Services to develop the health IT industry and help local providers adopt electronic health records.

The Department of Health and Human Services has awarded $267 million to 28 non-profit organizations to establish health information technology regional extension centers.

With funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the money will provide hands-on, community-based support to healthcare providers to accelerate the adoption of health IT.

The awards are expected to advance the goal of developing the emerging health IT industry which is expected to support tens of thousands of jobs, ranging from nurses and pharmacy techs to IT technicians and trainers.

Through RECs, healthcare practitioners can contact a local resource for technical assistance, guidance, and information on best practices. RECs are designed to address unique community requirements and to support and accelerate provider efforts to become meaningful users of electronic health records.

"Healthcare in our country is community-based. Today's awards represent our ongoing commitment to make sure that health providers have the necessary support within their communities to maximize the use of health IT to improve the care they provide to their patients," HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement.

These awards bring the total number of RECs to 60. The financing will provide nationwide outreach and technical support services to at least 100,000 primary care providers and hospitals within two years. The primary care provider is often the first medical practitioner contacted by a patient.

According to HHS, more than $375 million had been awarded earlier to RECs under this program. Additionally, all REC awardees can apply for a two-year expansion supplemental award. The supplemental awards would ensure that health IT support services are available to over 2,000 of the nation's critical-access hospitals and rural hospitals, both defined as having 50 beds or less. Approximately $25 million is available through this supplemental expansion program.

"Regional extension centers will provide the needed hands-on, field support for all healthcare providers to advance the rapid adoption and use of health IT. RECs are a vital part of our overall efforts to improve the quality and efficiency of healthcare through the effective use of health IT," Dr. David Blumenthal, national coordinator for health information technology, said in a statement.

The awards are part of the $2 billion effort by the Recovery Act of 2009 to achieve widespread, meaningful use of health IT and provide an electronic health record for every citizen by the year 2014.

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