Regional extension centers help providers prep for MACRA

Education mission expands as reimbursement approach takes a new turn, says Carmen Hughes.

Some regional extension centers that helped providers make the switch to electronic health records are taking on new duties to support provider organizations.

Under the HITECH Act that ushered in the Electronic Health Records Meaningful Use Program, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology funded 62 regional extension centers to provide assistance to providers participating in the program, with a focus on small practices and those serving in rural and underserved regions.

Many of the extension centers are still operating, now taking on an additional mission to help providers succeed in the MACRA program to improve the quality of care while cutting costs through value-based reimbursement, along with other providers participating in the MIPS payment program that is part of MACRA.

The need for assistance is substantial, based on a recent survey of 300 healthcare and health information technology professionals conducted by Stoltenberg Consulting, which found two-thirds of respondents were not prepared for MACRA or MIPS.

Many regional extension centers also work with state agencies. For instance, the Georgia Health Information Technology Extension Center received state funds in 2013 to work with specialists serving the Medicaid population, and that contract was extended early this year to all Medicaid-eligible providers in the MIPS program, says Carmen Hughes, executive director of the Georgia extension center.

Also See: IT could be the most difficult part of the shift to MACRA

To date, the center has served more than 4,000 providers and 56 critical access hospitals in becoming EHR meaningful users, with practices and hospitals receiving more than $100 million in incentive payments.

Among its other services, the center also operates a regional health information exchange to facilitate data sharing, using the ALLOY Platform for Healthcare from Liaison Technology.

This spring, the center reached hundreds of providers by explaining its services at conferences and association meetings, and also offered web seminars to raise awareness and get providers ready to participate with direct technical assistance. About 50 providers have been served thus far.

Hughes characterizes the web seminars as “virtual office hours” through which providers can ask questions via an audio link or chat box, and can receive a link to dial into a training module, as well as assistance in pulling data from the EHR to see if a provider is meeting appropriate measures. Common questions providers often ask are if they are eligible for MIPS, if they must participate this year, and how different the program will require them to operate, compared with how they currently operate.

Providers, for instance, may have to change workflows because of the need to meet care quality metrics, and the practice staff may need additional training to understand how to meet MIPS requirements.

The Georgia Health Information Extension Technology center was recently announced as a sub-contractor, along with extension centers in North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida, to Alliant Quality, Georgia’s quality improvement organization with funds available through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to support small and solo practices. In total, nine such awards were given across the nation to represent all 50 states.

“We continue to provide practice transformation in Georgia to lead the creation and advancement of health equity, and we continue to work with practices serving rural and underserved communities,” Hughes says.

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