Regional Extension Centers: Do They Make Sense for You?

November 15, 2010

Despite the attractive federal incentives being offered to practices that adopt electronic health records (EHRs) and achieve Meaningful Use, it is well understood that the average small practice is going to need some help along the way. That’s one of the reasons that the government set aside $640 MM to fund a new group of organizations called Regional Extension Centers (REC).

Despite the attractive federal incentives being offered to practices that adopt electronic health records (EHRs) and achieve Meaningful Use, it is well understood that the average small practice is going to need some help along the way. That’s one of the reasons that the government set aside $640 MM to fund a new group of organizations called Regional Extension Centers (REC). 

Currently, there are 62 Regional Extension Centers nationwide and their primary goal is to assist practices in achieving Meaningful Use. They do this through offering local consulting services, covering everything from EHR preparation and selection for practices that have not made the leap to electronic health records, to workflow and Meaningful Use review for those that have.

Since the REC services are often available at no cost or low cost, they are worth exploring for any practice that feels they need a helping hand.

The process to interact with a REC is pretty simple: first locate the appropriate REC in your region (see the following link for your REC)
http://healthit.hhs.gov/portal/server.pt?open=512&objID=1495&mode=2&cached=true.

Talk to one of its recruiters to find out what services are available and if any fees would apply. Note that the RECs are specifically focused on primary care providers (defined as pediatrics, OB-GYN, family practice and internal medicine), so if you are a specialist, you are probably not going to be eligible for free or low cost services.

If you like what you hear after speaking to the recruiter, you will be asked to sign a formal participation agreement and will be assigned a consultant. Then the work will begin.

How do the RECs make money? Although they have received some seed funding from the government to get things moving, RECs get the majority of their funds based on their ability to recruit providers and help them achieve Meaningful Use. They are operating on a tight time frame, and each has a quota of providers to hit within the next three and one-half years.

This is good. That means they are financially motivated to help practices become competent, expert EHR users capable of qualifying for federal incentives.

What’s the downside? Unless the REC is charging an outrageous sum for its services (which most are not), I can’t see any downside to engaging your local Regional Extension Center. At a minimum, the highly competent, EHR-savvy practice will get excellent insight into the precise details of qualifying for the Meaningful Use incentives. Practices that are new to the digital world will have low-cost access to expertise that can save them a ton of time and help them avoid a lot of heartache.

Bruce Kleaveland is a paid correspondent through Intel’s sponsorship with Physicians Practice.