The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology in February will make the first set of grant awards available to regional health information technology extension centers under a $598 million program authorized under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

That's according to a notice ONC published on Feb. 2 in the Federal Register. The initial awards are a little behind schedule; National Coordinator David Blumenthal in early December said about 30 grants would be awarded in February with the remainder in March. The centers will provide technical assistance and disseminate best practices to physician practices and hospitals wishing to adopt electronic health records.

The Department of Health and Human Services will establish up to 70 extension centers, which will focus on rural and safety net providers, as well as primary care practices. The ONC notice indicated there would be 60 centers. An ONC official was not immediately available to explain the discrepancy.

Each center will be provided customer relationship management software to manage tasks associated with the federal contract and to generate quarterly status reports. The software vendor has not yet been selected. ONC estimates the status reports will each take about four hours to complete.

Regional extension centers also will conduct a comprehensive program evaluation that will take an estimated 100 hours to complete. The ONC notice is available at

--Joseph Goedert

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