More than 100,000 primary care physicians have committed to work with regional extension centers to achieve meaningful use of electronic health records, according to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

The HITECH Act-funded RECs target assistance programs to physicians working with underserved populations in community health centers and public hospitals, small or rural practices, and critical access and rural hospitals. Committed physicians in the hospitals account for half of 1,776 targeted critical access and rural hospitals that RECs also serve.

Sixty-two RECs operate across the nation. REC services, delivered hands-on and through the Web, include workflow and practice pattern assessments, guidance and technical assistance to aid with implementation, training and use of best practices, and help after go-live to become meaningful users.

Under HITECH, the federal government was to pay 90 percent of costs for the first two years until the RECs became self-sufficient, with the RECs paying 90% the following two years.

The cost sharing requirements proved to be detrimental to the REC program because national economic conditions have undermined physicians' ability to pay for help. In January 2011, ONC announced that federal stimulus dollars would continue to pay 90% of REC costs for the third and fourth years of operations.

In February 2011, ONC also provided another $12.2 million to RECs to serve critical access and rural hospitals, in addition to $19.85 million previously awarded.

More information on the REC program is available here.


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