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D.C. Report: Stage 2 Timeline Concern, Funding for Rural Hospitals

September 20, 2010
by Sharon Canner, Sr. Director of Advocacy
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Stage Two Timeline Concern for Both Providers and Vendors. Beginning January 1, providers may apply for incentive funding under the EHR [Electronic Health Record] Incentive Program. Experience generated during this initial stage will help guide subsequent phases of the program, with one caveat. According to timelines established by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through its Health IT Policy Committee is set to prepare recommendations on 2013 meaningful use criteria by next April. This schedule was established in order to give vendors time to develop more sophisticated applications for their EHRs.

Provider and vendor members of the HIT Policy Committee meeting this week, however, expressed concern that this tight timeframe lacked flexibility and would not allow them to make the necessary adjustments to prepare for Stage 2. As part of the committee discussion, National Coordinator Dr. David Blumenthal pointed out that the announced timelines were “advisory.” He was referring to the fact that the HIT Policy Committee is just that and that deadlines have been known to change. However, it seems clear that ONC is determined to adhere to the established schedule and no changes are planned at this time.

According to the schedule, the HIT Policy Committee Meaningful Use Work Group will meet September 22 to draft recommendations for Stage 2 requirements followed by presentation to the full Committee October 20. Following that, the public will have direct input through a request for information (RFI) released in either November or December. CHIME intends to respond to the RFI. During the first quarter of 2011, HHS will monitor Stage 1 submissions. Draft recommendations are due to the HIT Policy Committee during the second quarter with final recommendations due to the Office of the national Coordinator (ONC) later during that same time period.

Additional Funding to RECs Will Support Rural Hospitals. A total of 1,655 critical access and rural hospitals stand to benefit from funding for health IT just released by HHS. The $20 million is being awarded directly to 46 Regional Extension Centers (RECs) in 41 states and the nationwide Indian Country. The program is intended to provide additional support for staffing and expertise to assist critical access and rural hospitals with fewer than 50 beds in selecting and implementing EHR systems primarily within the outpatient setting.

“Regional Extension Centers are poised to provide the hands-on, field support needed by health care providers to advance the rapid adoption and use of health IT,” said Dr. David Blumenthal, national coordinator for health information technology. “The added level of support we are announcing today will enable the RECs to offer greater field support to these communities as they deal with the financial and workforce constraints, and work to achieve access to broadband connectivity and to overcome other barriers that critical access hospitals and other rural hospitals may confront.”

The RECs’ main target audience is small physician practices, a group well known to CIOs. Indeed, established CIO-physician relationships can be a major asset in fostering the use of EMRs. To this end, CHIME’s StateNet REC Workgroup is developing strategies for reaching out to the RECs and working closely with the ONC.