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California RECs Shift Into High Gear

August 17, 2010
by David Raths
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Two Regional Extension Centers gear up to provide services to California health providers.

In an Aug. 12 eHealth stakeholder webinar, leaders of two California Regional Extension Centers (RECs) described how they are shifting from planning mode to the operational stage.

California Health Information Partnership and Services Organization (CalHIPSO), one of 60 federally designated RECS around the country, will provide services to all of California except Los Angeles and Orange County. Its executive director, Speranza Avram, noted that it has opened enrollment and partnered with 10 “Local Extension Centers” to provide on-site technical assistance to some 5,200 providers. CalHIPSO will directly serve more than 900 providers. It has hired consulting firm ECG Management Consultants to help it choose which EHR products to support. The nonprofit Council Connections will act as CalHIPSO's group purchasing partner.

HITEC-LA, which will work with thousands of physicians in Los Angeles County, is developing its business plan in expectation of a launch in October, said its executive director, Mary Franz. She said it is important to do outreach to trade groups, physicians and office managers to determine what their expectations are and how they want to work with the REC.

Avram said the timeline facing RECs is quite challenging. The California RECs have about 18 months to help more than 6,000 providers install EHRs. Avram said she expected questions about more flexible timelines to be raised at an upcoming meeting between all the REC leaders and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), but so far there has been no signal that timelines would be adjusted.

Also during the Aug. 12 webinar, Carladenise Edwards, the new president and CEO of CaleConnect (CeC), the state-level health information exchange organization, said CeC has filled 20 of 22 board seats and established four advisory groups as well as a lab service advisory task group to review and revise the organization’s technical implementation plan to support lab exchange.

ONC has often been praised for the open and transparent nature of its policy deliberations. The state of California has developed a similar structure with regular meetings held online and open to the public.

Jonah Frohlich, deputy secretary for health information technology for the California Health and Human Services Agency, gets credit from many California stakeholders for the transparency of the decision-making process he has established.

“My experience is that a truly open process can be grueling, and you spend more time on calls circling back on old issues with new people, but it is very much worth it,” he said in a recent interview. “We had to engage a large audience. Sometimes dirty laundry gets aired, but many people have come to the table and spent countless hours volunteering.”