Electronic Health Records (EHRs) have been phased into practice in many major metropolitan hospitals, due in large part to support from the Obama administration, but this technology may be harder to find in rural communities. In an attempt to rectify that, the U.S. government is funneling as much as $30 million through its Regional Extension Center (REC) program. The money is part of an effort to get 1,000 federally designated "critical access hospitals" and small, rural hospitals to adopt electronic health records (EHRs) and achieve Meaningful Use by 2014. These funds could help up to 1,501 rural hospitals.
This money is in addition to the $32 million in funding that the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) previously committed to RECs to help health IT adoption at Critical Access Hospitals. Critical Access Hospitals are defined as rural facilities with no more than 25 beds and an average daily census of 10 or fewer patients. The ONC officials said that about 1,220 Critical Access Hospitals and other small acute care facilities have signed up for REC assistance.
The Kansas City, Mo.-based National Rural Health Association (NRHA), which represents this class of hospitals, is on board with the plan but still sees obstacles ahead. "Generally, NRHA is very pleased to see ONC making this push. We think it's been overdue," said Brock Slabach, NRHA senior VP for member services. However, Slabach says he will be reserving judgment until he sees ONC's baseline tally for small hospitals that have already met Meaningful Use. ONC will allow NRHA to work with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)--the "keeper of the data," according to Slabach--to calculate the baseline.
The short timeline to get to Meaningful Use before penalties begin Oct. 1, 2014--the start of federal fiscal year 2015, which Medicare Part A follows--means that hospitals need to get started on EHR implementation in the next year or so.
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