Webinar: HITRC gearing up for RECs to 'convene and connect'

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The Health IT Resource Center (HITRC) structure to convene and connect regional extension centers (RECs) and the health IT industry could also set the stage for the RECs themselves to provide a common forum for providers in their area, according to Melissa Rutala, MPH, director of the Arizona Health-e Connection Regional Extension Center, during a webinar hosted by healthcare nonprofit eHealth Initiative on RECs.

“We are looking at some web-portal technology that will allow us to manage membership, distribute general education modules that are being developed at the national level...and facilitate member-community user groups and connect providers,” stated Rutala. "That will help ease the burden of best practices among RECs.”

The webinar was the second in a series of webinars focused on RECs from the Washington, D.C.-based eHealth Initiative. The session from this week focused on RECs’ service offerings, sustainability and plans to date.

“Once HITRC successfully realizes its mission, there will be at least 100,000 priority primary care physicians (PPCPs) meaningfully using EHRs by 2012,” said featured speaker Ned Ellington, PhD, HITRC division of the Office of Provider Adoption Support at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC).

HITRC’s mission is to accelerate the adoption and meaningful use of EHRs with objectives to convene RECs, provide technical assistance and deliver usable tools and artifacts to improve patient care.

“Congress has given us an opportunity to stand up the REC and have boots on the ground to focus on a sector of providers--the small doctor operations--that will probably get ignored if we don’t [pay attention],” said Ellington. “What we’re going to learn over the next six months to a year is how to implement the EHR, make it work and improve quality in the small doctor operations space.”

Ellington stated that HITRC would then shift focus from a “resource” perspective to a “research” perspective to figure out empirical best practices.

To “convene and connect” RECs, Ellington stated that he believes most of the activity will be transmitted in the virtual world. Therefore, HITRC is currently building out a virtual infrastructure for RECs to communicate with one another through various means, including web meetings, private portals and a public website encouraging RECs to learn from each other.

“If a REC is working with a small doctor operation and a question arises, we need to answer those questions in real-time,” said Ellington.

HITRC’s strategy to harness power nationwide is to build “communities of practice,” because it is critical to share best practices. “How do we sign up 100,000 clinicians? Well, we have 60 RECs working on it and they all have great ideas,” Ellington said. For example, what might work in Georgia might not work everywhere, but could work in one or two other communities, he added.

HITRC is gearing up plans to “kick off” regional meetings for July and August and is currently developing an annual meeting (date TBA) for RECs and the public to share ideas in the field.

The webinar also featured a REC panel discussion, during which representatives from some RECs provided insights into their strategies for the future. All panelists noted that change management will be a tremendous undertaking as the REC program rolls forward.

For example, the REC goal for the Ohio Health Information Partnership (OHIP) is to have 6,000 PPCPs meaningfully using EHRs by Feb. 8, 2012, according to Amy Andres, chairperson of the board of OHIP, Health IT Officer for the state of Ohio and chief of staff at the Ohio Department of Insurance. To achieve this goal, OHIP will have to sign on approximately 75 providers a week, Andres noted.

Arizona Health-e Connection's goal is 2,010 PPCPs by April 2012, according to Rutala. Because not all participating PPCPs will get to meaningful use, Rutala suggested that the RECs set "appropriate expectations with providers."

The webinar was sponsored by McKesson, RelayHealth and HP.