A new four-year federal initiative backed with $840 million in funding is designed to aid 150,000 physician practices in transforming their operations to improve the efficiency, quality and coordination of care, supported with information technologies.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced the health reform-funded Transforming Clinical Practices Initiative on Oct. 23. Funding opportunities are now available for two types of new network systems: Practice Transformation Networks and Support and Alignment Networks.

Practice Transformation Networks are “peer-based learning networks designed to coach, mentor and assist clinicians in developing core competencies specific to practice transformation,” according to CMS information on the programs. These networks target organizations, such as group practices and delivery systems, with pre-existing relationships with multiple practices that are primary care and/or specialty practices.

“To date, there have only been small-scale investments in a collaborative peer-based learning initiative,” according to a CMS fact sheet. “CMS estimates that about 185,000 clinicians currently participate in existing programs, models, and initiatives that facilitate practice transformation. This represents only 16 percent of the nation’s one million Medicare and Medicaid providers. While this is an increase over previous years, there is much more work to be done.”

Support and Alignment Networks will focus on workforce development using national and regional professional associations, as well as public-private partnerships that already offer practice transformation services. The networks will create an infrastructure to identify and disseminate evidence-based practices and policies to support a scalable and sustainable approach to improved care.

Strategies eligible for funding, among others, include:

* Using electronic health records daily to examine data on quality and efficiency,

* Improving physician access to patient information to better engage patients such as helping them take medications appropriately,

* Improving coordination throughout the care continuum, and

* Expanding ways that patients can communicate with primary care providers and specialists.

Each program includes a considerable number of measures--many supported by EHRs and other information technologies--to be considered for performance improvement and model evaluation.

Applications now are being accepted for both programs.  Applicants are encouraged but not required to submit a letter of intent by Nov. 20. Applications are due by 3:00 ET on Jan. 6, 2015, with award notices anticipated on April 30. The awards will cover a performance period from May 1, 2015 to April 30, 2019.

Applications, the funding opportunity announcements, a fact sheet and frequently asked questions are available here.

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