Blumenthal: Extension centers, 'beacon communities' must help rural providers

National health IT coordinator Dr. David Blumenthal wants the networks of regional extension centers and "beacon communities" to put special emphasis on helping rural providers adopt EMRs.

Speaking at a rural health IT conference last week, Blumenthal said, "We're hoping there will be a rural community of practice formed as part of [the health IT extension center] process," Government Health IT reports. He noted that his Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology is working with the Departments of Agriculture and Commerce to improve rural access to broadband Internet service, including through the yet-to-be named beacon communities. As many as five of the 15 planned beacon communities will serve rural populations, Blumenthal said.

"You've got to find a way to give [rural providers] support and transitional assistance that will allow them to reorient their office practices, to better inculcate the benefits of EHRs and allow them to continue to deliver care without losing money," Dr. Warren Jones, health policy professor at University of Mississippi Medical Center, said at the same conference. The extension centers will help, according to Jones, but only if they do their jobs properly.

Jones said extension centers should survey rural providers to identify the most pressing problems, then prioritize their resources to address those issues. He also recommended that extension centers set up business incubators to mentor small practices in EMR adoption and workflow transformation.

To learn more:
- see this Government Health IT story