Kansas REC: We've seen 'tremendous change' in EHR adoption

Providers in Kansas have a relatively high electronic health record adoption rate, but many of them needed to warm up to the concept, says Michael Aldridge (pictured), Vice President of Operations and Program Director for the Kansas Regional Extension Center (REC).

"We traveled around the state and visited with the salt of the earth acting on behalf of the federal government, and the feedback was they didn't want the feds running their business," Aldridge told FierceEMR in an exclusive interview. "It may be a Midwest thing."

He added, however, that over the course of three-and-a-half years, he's seen "tremendous" change."In the past the question was 'Do we want an EMR?' he said. "Now, the question is 'Are we happy with our EMR?'"

In addition, Aldridge talked about how his REC is trying to keep costs down, partnership initiatives and what will occur once grant funding ends in 2014.  

FierceEMR: Talk about your REC's successes.

Aldridge: Things are going extremely well here in Kansas. We continue to rank among the higher performing RECs.

I'm also very proud of our partnership with the health IT workforce program at [Overland Park, Kan.-based] Johnson County Community College. The goal was to train 110 students; they trained 116. The college has secured an additional grant from the Department of Labor and pushed out another 122 students. Now another community college is involved and some four-year colleges are interested. The goal is to have health IT people all across the state.

FierceEMR: What obstacles have Kansas providers experienced in adopting EHRs?

Aldridge: It comes down to capital. Money was often a barrier for some of the smaller practices. We originally charged a higher fee. That didn't work, so we offered services for free. We charge them now, though. 

We're trying very hard to find more grant opportunities to subsidize the cost of the program.

FierceEMR: What's on the horizon for 2014?

Aldridge: The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT challenges us to keep our sustainability. So we have positioned ourselves to continue to work with the practices. They're saying "don't go away." We're pursuing grant opportunities, such as approaching the local foundations.

We're working with TransforMed, a subsidiary of the American Academy of Family Physicians, to help providers move to patient centered medical homes. It's a natural partnership. We are also creating a standard set of policies and health information exchange and HIPAA privacy and security.

FierceEMR: Any advice for other RECs?

Aldridge: If an REC waited until now to think about sustainability, it's in bad shape.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.