In an announcement made last week, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology will provide $32 million in funding to accelerate health IT through Regional Extension Centers (RECs). ONC head Dr. David Blumenthal also announced additional money for health information exchanges and community college HIT programs.
In a message posted on Dr. Blumenthal’s blog, he announced a new chapter in the nation’s adoption of health IT. “As we begin this chapter, ONC is accelerating progress with new funding for programs vital to our goals,” he wrote.
Blumenthal mentioned that in addition to electronic health records (EHRs) an emphasis needed to focus on “supporting players,” such as RECs, community colleges and other actors who are providing technical assistance to hospitals as they focus on meaningful use objectives.
Over sixty RECs were set up across the country as part of the HITECH Act to help smaller practice primary care providers, rural hospitals and other health practitioners implement technology. The health IT Regional Extension Centers are expected to provide nationwide outreach and technical support services to at least 100,000 primary care providers and hospitals within two years. And thus far 38,000 primary care providers have enrolled for REC assistance, HHS officials said. The $32 million in funding joins the over $600 million already obligated for RECs.
“This [money] especially reflects our plan to accelerate outreach to health care providers to encourage registration for the CMS Incentive Programs and to provide more support in the field as providers adopt health information technology in their practices,” Blumenthal said.
Last December, ONC announced the availability of grants for model health information exchanges. In what are being referred to as Challenge Grants, federal officials are making $1 and $2 million grants available to states that share best practices, technologies, and governance structures to overcome persistent barriers to a nationwide health information exchange and interoperability. These new funds will bring total Challenge Grants opportunities to over $30 million.
Lastly, ONC hopes to graduate 10,500 students a year through HIT community college programs. To help meet this goal, $32 million in second year funding is being provided to continue academic HIT programs training for those specialists needed to make rapid adoption and meaningful use possible.