HIMSS10: ONC's Hunt touts regional extension centers

Need help selecting and implementing an EMR? "Find your regional extension center," Dr. David Hunt, chief medical officer in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, told FierceEMR at last week's HIMSS conference. "They'll have the most up-to-date information."

The planned nationwide network of 60 regional extension centers, funded by $598 million of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money, is meant to help physicians adopt EMRs and earn federal subsidies for "meaningful use" of the technology. ONC awarded money last month to establish 32 extension centers, covering nearly 70 percent of the U.S. population, according to Hunt. The remaining centers will be announced in the next month or two.

Hunt said each extension center will be like a "one-stop shop" for answers about EMR selection and implementation, health information exchange and the stimulus. "HIE grantees for each state will be working closely with each REC," Hunt explained in an interview at HIMSS10 in Atlanta.

Hunt, a general surgeon who also serves as acting director of the ONC Office of Health IT Adoption, cautioned that vendor "guarantees" of meaningful use are not absolute because the onus is on providers to use EMRs in a meaningful way. "Meaningful use is something you cannot get off the shelf," he said.

Of the guarantees, Hunt said they are part of a marketing message meant to convey in clear terms that products will have the necessary tools to help customers get to meaningful use. "I take them at their word for the spirit [in which] that they're giving the guarantee," Hunt said.