American Medical Association (AMA) President, Cecil B. Wilson, M.D., said in an AMA Commentary this week, "Physicians should take the time to explore their practice needs, assess their practice's readiness to adopt health IT and select the right system for the practice --and its patients". This is wise advice that I wholeheartedly agree with.
I also agree that the successful adoption and meaningful use of electronic health records (EHRs) impose many new challenges onto physician practices and that overcoming these barriers is especially difficult for physicians in small practices or solo practices that are constrained by limited resources. My only disappointment with Dr. Wilson's message to physicians is that it failed to highlight how Regional Extension Centers (RECs) can be leveraged by physicians to address these issues with EHR adoption and use.
The HITECH portion of the 2009 Reinvestment Act (ARRA) included over $677 million in grant funds to establish RECs across the nation to cover every geographic region. The purpose of each REC is to provide consulting services to physicians that help them overcome many of the described barriers to the adoption and use of EHRs. It is important for physicians to know that the RECs receive federal subsidies specifically based on and proportionate to the number of primary care physicians in solo or small group practices (<10 physicians) that they successfully help adopt, implement and meaningfully use an EHR. In other words, RECs are financially dependent on providing effective health IT consulting services to a segment of physicians who have the greatest need for such services.
In Texas there are four RECs including the North Texas REC (NTREC) for which I volunteer time as Board Chairman. Other Texas physicians volunteer their time to comprise 50% of the governing boards for each of the four RECs. Our goal is to ensure that our RECs are physician-friendly and remained focused on providing high quality services that meet the technology needs of small physician practices in each region. Texas RECs collaborated with each other to create a common business plan that leverages the federal subsidies to charge Texas physicians a token fee of $300 for IT consulting services worth over $5,000.
NTREC will receive 100% of their allotted subsidies if we successfully help 1,500 physicians adopt EHRs and achieve meaningful use. Since last October more than 500 North Texas physicians have enrolled for NTREC services; over half of them have already successfully implemented an EHR and are now working on the achieving meaningful use of their investment.
My hope is that physicians in other states will emulate our efforts by actively engaging in the governance of their region's RECs to ensure that they are physician-centric and remain focused on addressing the unmet needs of the small physician practices.