David Blumenthal, M.D., national coordinator for health information technology, on Feb. 12 issued the following statement following the federal government's awarding of $988 million in stimulus-funded grants to advance health information exchange (see story):
"Today we announce the first cooperative agreement awards authorized by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. It marks a major milestone in our journey towards nationwide adoption and meaningful use of health information technology (health IT). One set of awards provides $386 million to 40 States and qualified State-Designated Entities to rapidly build capacity for exchanging health information across the health care system both within and between states through the State Health Information Exchange Cooperative Agreement Program. The other awards provide $375 million to create 32 Regional Extension Centers (RECs) that will support the efforts of health professionals, starting with priority primary care providers, to become meaningful users of electronic health records (EHRs). Additional awards will be made in both programs over the coming weeks. Together, these programs will help modernize the use of health information, improving the quality and efficiency of care for all Americans.
"As part of the State Health Information Exchange Cooperative Agreement Program, states will play a leadership role in achieving HIE to meet health reform goals. The funds awarded will be used to establish and implement plans for statewide HIE by creating the appropriate governance, policies, and technical services required to support HIE. Developing this state-level capability will help us break down the current barriers to HIE and help providers to qualify for Medicare and Medicaid incentives under the HITECH Act. The awards will also strongly encourage states to consider participating in the Nationwide Health Information Network as an approach to HIE. This would create a pathway toward seamless, nationwide health information exchange.
"While the State HIE awards will strengthen capacity for health information exchange, the Health Information Technology Extension Program awards will establish RECs to deliver direct outreach, education, and technical assistance services to health care providers in their regions. Each REC will focus most intensively on the physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners who work as part of individual and small group primary care practices, as well as those who dedicate themselves to providing health care to the underserved. Primary care providers in small practices provide the great majority of such services in the U.S. but have limited resources to implement, meaningfully use, and maintain EHR systems. On-site technical assistance for these priority primary care providers will be a key service offered by the RECs. RECs will assist providers who have not adopted EHRs, as well as those who have but need help progressing to meaningful use. Regional extension centers will also help providers keep health information private and secure.
"The Health Information Technology Extension Program and the State Health Information Exchange Cooperative Agreement Program are critical components to the end of a nation-wide interoperable, private and secure electronic health information system. I look forward to working in collaboration with each state and REC as they establish their programs, begin work within their communities, and promote the transformation of our health care system. I applaud each awarded entity for its dedication to the mission of improving the quality of health care and for the leadership and guidance it will provide."
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