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Regional Extension Centers (RECs) exist to help hospitals, community health centers, and primary care providers adopt and electronic health records (EHR) system. The 2009 economic stimulus package created RECs to provide eligibility for Medicare and Medicaid incentive fees to physicians who confirm meaningful use of accredited EHRs. The top achievements of RECs include:

Meeting and surpassing goals. RECs set a goal of providing assistance to 100,000 providers in small primary care practices to attest to the meaningful use of EHRs. At this point, more than 150,000 providers are enrolled. Of those providers, 90 percent are live with their EHRs and more than 93,000 have demonstrated meaningful use.

Support for Advanced Care Delivery. Offering assistance in the form of secure messaging services, hands-on training, and educational seminars provides support for physicians to deliver advanced care. Stage 1 included data sharing and capture, centered on capturing health information in an electronically standardized format. That information is used to track key clinical conditions. Clinics and professionals must report on the quality criteria in order to successfully attest to meaningful use and receive an incentive payment.

Medicare and Medicaid incentives. Approximately half of the providers receive Medicaid EHR incentive payments and one-fifth currently enrolled physicians receive Medicare incentives. In fact, Medicare providers working with RECs are over two and half times more likely to receive an EHR incentive payment.

The Next Stages

Stage 2. In the second stage, meaningful use criteria focus on more rigorous health information exchange (HIE), electronic transmission of patient care summaries, increased requirements for e-prescribing and incorporating lab results, and more patient-controlled data.

Stage 3. In the third and final stage (targeted to roll out in 2016), the shift includes improving quality, efficiency, and safety. By improving health outcomes, offering decision support for nation high-priority contingencies, allowing patient access to self-management tools, and introducing comprehensive patient data through patient-centered HIE, the health of the overall population can improve significantly.

The Future of RECs

Federal funding ended officially in mid-2014. However, RECs can request no-cost contract extension for a one-year period to enable them to spend any remaining funds in their budgets for specified purposes. Of the 62 RECs, 55 requested extensions, with 39 receiving them. The other requests are pending. RECs need expertise in areas such as quality improvement and clinical workflow processes. The RECs with those capabilities gave providers help with meaningful use Stage 1.

The degree of sustenance that RECs can provide to practitioners in meeting the goals of meaningful use in Stages 2 and 3 remains uncertain. In the end, the RECs that worked hard enrolling physicians and helping them select their EHRs to demonstrate meaningful use are the ones who can adequately assist in the next stages.