Oklahoma REC a health IT 'fixture' for rural providers

Providers have made great strides in adopting electronic health records, but the process is not without its challenges, says Jonathan Kolarik, Director of Health IT for the Oklahoma Foundation for Medical Quality's Regional Extension Center (REC) Network.

"It's highly rural, and they need onsite support." Kolarik told FierceEMR in an exclusive interview. "We have 77 counties, and 1.8 doctors per practice."

Kolarik talked about how his REC is helping providers adopt EHRs, the roadblocks affecting his state and what will occur once federal funding for the RECs ends.

FierceEMR: Talk about the successes of your REC.

Kolarik: We have 1,000 providers in 486 locations and 98 percent--980 of them--are on certified EHRs. Five-hundred of them are already achieving Meaningful Use and several are on their second year. We've also had the first two doctors in the nation attest to Medicaid.  

It's a never ending process. We're still working to add providers.

We have a unique model. There are only six practice advisors, geographically placed. I don't see my team more than once or twice a month.

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

Kolarik: Our biggest challenge was with significant bandwidth issues, especially in the beginning. They couldn't keep a dial up connection. But we've made great strides, and that for the most part has been resolved.

Also, we're actively seeking other ways to connect beyond face to face. It can be four to four-and-a-half hours in one direction [from one provider to another]. This is a word of mouth type of state. It's challenging to get the word out because the providers don't actively respond to email, twitter and Facebook.

FierceEMR: What's on the horizon for 2014?

Kolarik: Sixty-five to 80 percent of providers will stay in contract. We will focus efforts in privacy and security and on Stage 2 of Meaningful Use. There's a need for it. It's relevant and timely. Providers will also need people on site to help guide them through the health information exchange process--training, authentication.

The HIE Trust has been giving out vouchers to providers to install HIE software, and the REC is the way to reach out to these providers. We've had good success getting those vouchers to providers. That's sustainability, for sure.

The REC wants to position itself as the go-to entity for health IT in the state for all providers, with links and tools. We're vendor neutral.

FierceEMR: Any advice for other RECs and health IT advisors?

Kolarik: Taking the time to be onsite as a trusted advisor and advocate is pivotal. We've become a fixture for facilities.

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