Regional extension centers deserve a round of applause

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When it comes to the government, everyone's a critic. And of course, the government is low hanging fruit. Putting partisan politics aside, it's pretty easy to rag on the government for mistakes, strategies that fall short, and general shortcomings, like wasting Medicare dollars.

So it's refreshing to take a look at a government program that appears to be working: the regional extension centers (RECs). The 62 RECs were charged with helping physician practices and rural, critical access hospitals adopt and meaningfully use electronic health records. This is not the easiest task, as many providers--especially in rural areas--are not tech-savvy, lack the capital to invest in EHRs, and are suspicious of the federal government.

But look at what they've done in just three years. The RECs have signed up more than 146,000 providers. They've surpassed both their enrollment goal (133 percent) and their "live on EHR" goal (114 percent), and are more than halfway (60 percent) toward their "demonstrate Meaningful Use" goal.

Plus, the RECs are acing their government performance reviews. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that providers who signed up for assistance from a REC were more than twice as likely to have received a Meaningful Use incentive payment. And this week, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Inspector General, in the first audit of a REC program, reported that four Texas RECs have been performing their duties so well that OIG had "no recommendations" for improvement. That is a rare accolade, indeed.

And all this despite the RECs' own admission just a year ago that doctors face obstacles to attaining Meaningful Use.

What I have been the most struck by, though, is the enthusiasm and commitment from the RECs themselves. I've had the opportunity to speak with three REC leaders recently--from Kentucky, Oklahoma and Kansas--and the message from each of them was surprisingly consistent. They've all had to deal with roadblocks. All three were passionate about helping their providers, driven to succeed, and happy with their support teams. They believe that they've made great strides in EHR adoption and acceptance, and they have.

They're also working very hard to become self-sustaining when their grant funds from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT run out in 2014, creating partnerships and expanding their services. They want to stay in business and fill the needs they see in their states.

I say kudos.

Yet, one voice that has been somewhat silent, however, is that of the providers. They are, after all, the RECs' clients. What do they think of their local RECs? Why have they joined or not joined one? Are there any ways in which they should improve? What services would you like to see offered?

I think we'll find that the RECs are listening. - Marla (@MarlaHirsch)

Related Articles:
RECs: Physicians still face Meaningful Use obstacles
RECs tout Meaningful Use successes in response to GAO report
REC: EHR implementation is a 'psychological roller coaster'