The regional extension centers (RECs) helped spur electronic health record adoption and Meaningful Use attainment, even though they deployed different methods in providing assistance, according to a new report from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.
The final report, released April 12, found that 89 percent of REC participants adopted EHRs after 2010 or after enrolling in an REC, compared to 58 percent of nonparticipants. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of eligible professionals who received incentives under Stage 1 of Meaningful Use were assisted by an REC, compared to only 12 percent of those who did not.
The RECs used different models and system to attain their goals. For instance, RECs in areas with a well-established infrastructure for different healthcare "transformation initiatives" used large-scale collaboration. Some RECs acted more as a consultant; others were "convener" or "constituency" based. Most RECs provided their services for free; a few charged providers because it demonstrated the providers' commitment to their health IT goals.
The RECs were established to help specified providers, such as small physician practices, community health centers and rural health clinics implement EHRs and meet the Meaningful Use requirements. ONC awarded 62 agreements to 60 organizations around the country. Overall the program met its goal of helping at least 100,000 providers achieve Meaningful Use. Funding for the program ended in 2014.
The report noted that more needs to be done to fully achieve EHR adoption, and that incentives and technical assistance were helpful motivators.
In a related blog post, Thomas Mason, M.D., ONC's chief medical officer, called the REC program a "key element" of the rapid HITECH success.