The 60 extension centers will provide technical support services and information to at least 100,000 providers during the next two years, according to an HHS news release. Staff at the centers will actively recruit providers and will assist them in choosing electronic health-record systems, group purchasing, and implementation, Blumenthal said in an April 6 conference call. Following implementation, centers may ramp up involvement, scheduling monthly check-ins for workflow adjustments and redesigns.
HHS also announced that all 60 centers would be able to apply for additional funds from a $25 million supplemental expansion program created to provide health IT support services to critical-access and rural hospitals with 50 beds or fewer.
The driving force for both the extension centers and the supplemental expansion program is making IT services available to providers that would be least likely to afford them in the private market, Blumenthal said.
“We recognize that small hospitals, especially during difficult times, have trouble finding the resources and expertise needed to become adept at using health IT,” he said.
The centers are noncompeting and don't have overlapping territory. Their combined coverage areas reach 95% of the country, Blumenthal added.
Some of the first round of centers have opened their doors and have begun to see providers, but most are in earlier stages, said Mat Kendall, acting director of the Office of Provider Adoption Support in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. The office is working with RECs to get their plans finalized and make sure they can open soon, Kendall said.
The extension centers' approaches will vary widely based on their location, provider base and level of engagement, Blumenthal said. Urban centers might have a large central office, while rural RECs could do some of their outreach through a central site and other programs through satellite offices and online resources.
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