Report: 'Unsavory' vendor practices a big challenge for RECs

The nation's regional extension centers experienced many of the same challenges as they worked to help providers implement electronic health records and meet the Meaningful Use requirements, according to a newly published independent report.

Conducted by the American Institutes for Research for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT and released on March 14, the interim report included a multiyear, mixed method evaluation and nine in-depth case studies.

Several key findings included:

  • Many RECs operated within existing networks of entities committed to heath care, such as state Medicaid offices, and were funded by multiple organizations
  • The RECs were flexible with staffing, based on supply and demand
  • The RECs took "multiple angles" to communicate with providers and offer a "comprehensive menu" of services
  • They faced common challenges, such as provider resistance

Three best practices emerged for helping providers achieve Meaningful Use, according to the report's authors, including the need for:

  • A strategic partnership in the community;
  • Staffing that includes technical assistance; and
  • A champion to advocate EHR adoption

Among the biggest challenges for which there were no best practice to help overcome were "unsavory business practices" of some vendors--such as lack of price transparency and inadequate training--as well as poor usability of the EHR systems themselves.

"[A]n important factor in the overall efficacy of the REC program will likely be the speed at which EHR product usability improves," the report stated. "It may be that the EHR product market will reduce to a small group of high-quality products and vendors because of market competition. Alternatively, EHR usability may simply improve as vendors have more time to invest in product development. Either way, the availability of high-quality EHR products is an important consideration in assessing the success of the REC program."

ONC has been pleased with the RECs' performance to date, noting recently that they "surpassed their goals" in increasing EHR adoption among physicians, rural hospitals, and others.

The RECs were established by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which also created the HITECH Act and the Meaningful Use program.

Despite the government's lauding of RECs, federal funding for the program runs out this year.

To learn more:
- read the report (.pdf)