Regional extension centers plan to stay open despite funding cuts

May 9, 2014

Thousands of providers rely on regional extension centers (RECs) to reach Meaningful Use requirements for their EHRs, but now some of these centers will be at risk of closing due to funding being stopped at the end of 2014

Thousands of providers rely on regional extension centers (RECs) to reach Meaningful Use requirements for their electronic health records systems, but now some of these centers will be at risk of closing due to funding being stopped at the end of 2014.

Though the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) is discontinuing funding to RECs, which were launched in 2009, 85% of the centers surveyed by the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) say they do not expect to close their doors. Forty-one percent of RECs expect to have enough funding to stay open until the end of the year, and 28% report funding has run out as of February 2014. Half of RECs report receiving state funding to keep their doors open. The 2014 HIMSS Regional Extension Center Survey included 39 respondents representing 37 of the 62 RECs funded by ONC.

There are 147,000 providers enrolled with a REC, and nearly half of them have achieved Meaningful Use Stage 1. Many of the survey respondents say that they are turning their efforts to assist providers with achieving Meaningful Use, and have been charging membership fees, selling consulting services to bring in more revenue. Half of RECs reported spending between $5 million and $9 million to assist providers with achieving Meaningful Use Stage 1; 22% reported spending up to $20 million or more.

“One respondent suggested that ‘the level of interest remains high among providers to continue with Stage 2 and embark in patient centered medical home recognition; the revenue generation from such activities is insufficient to maintain full-blown REC services,’” according to the survey results. “Another noted that many organizations, including ‘RECs are not accustomed to looking for sustainability models nor have the infrastructure to operate as a for-profit entity. This has been the biggest concern with being a REC.’ Finally, a respondent commented that ‘their organization will not commit to building a sustainable model.’”

More than 40% of primary care physicians, and more than half of rural primary care physicians are enrolled in a REC, according to HealthIT.gov.

 

 

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