Kentucky REC director: 'It's not the technology, it's the people'

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Hospitals and physicians are making inroads in electronic health record adoption, but it can be a challenge to implement, says Carol Steltenkamp, M.D. (right), a pediatrician at the University of Kentucky and director/principal investigator of Kentucky's regional extension center.

"Providers get it and want to do the right things for their patients. But that step is a big step," Steltenkamp told FierceEMR in an exclusive interview. "RECs help them optimize the use of technology."

Steltenkamp also talked about how her REC is helping providers adopt EHRs, the roadblocks affecting her state and the upcoming Meaningful Use audits.

FierceEMR: What kind of successes has your REC had in the past year?

Steltenkamp: To date, Kentucky REC has assisted 2,400 individual providers, 500 organizations, 95 percent of the state's Federally Qualified Health Centers, and 100 percent of our critical access hospitals.

We're really happy. We've made inroads with our health information exchange. We're sharing data. More importantly, we're sharing information.

FEMR: What obstacles have Kentucky providers experienced in adopting EHRs?

Steltenkamp: The biggest problems have been vendor-related. If you're a small physician group in rural Kentucky and the closest airport is two hours away in the greater Cincinnati area, a vendor coming to the airport can see 300 to 400 providers in Cincinnati or two providers in the rural part of Kentucky. So the REC is the go-between between the vendor and the rural provider.

Also, some providers don't have qualified individuals available to help with IT expertise. And in some cases, it's not the technology, it's the people. Older providers have to reengineer their work to move from paper records. My son, who is entering medical school, wouldn't think of moving forward [as a physician] without a computer.

FEMR: What's on the horizon for 2013?

Steltenkamp: Our REC will continue to help these folks and transition to a sustainable business model to move beyond [ONC's] grant funding. There's still plenty of work to be done because of Stage 2 of Meaningful Use coming along. These people are still our customers, our friends. We want to help them.

We're lucky, because we already have a contract with state Medicaid to provide REC services to help specialists adopt EHRs.

FEMR: Are your customers worried about the upcoming Meaningful Use audits?

Steltenkamp: There's a cloud of uncertainty about the audits and a heightened awareness.

FEMR: Any advice for providers who have yet to take the plunge?

Steltenkamp: Join your REC, and identify someone in your office to be the lead point person in EHR adoption. Also watch the payment and penalty timelines.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.