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HHS Grants $267M for Health IT Centers
 
 
  MedpageToday
Published: April 07, 2010
 
WASHINGTON -- The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is awarding $267 million in grants to establish 28 new regional extension centers that will help healthcare providers implement health information technology.
 
The centers will join 32 others that have already received awards totaling $375 million, making a total of 60 centers to open nationwide, said David Blumenthal, MD, PhD, National Coordinator of Health Information Technology at HHS, in a conference call. He explained that the purpose of the extension centers is to help providers become "meaningful users" of health information technology, as defined by the Recovery Act.
 
HHS estimated that the 60 centers will provide nationwide outreach and technical support services to at least 100,000 primary care providers and hospitals within two years. Approximately 95% of the U.S. population lives in areas covered by one of the 60 centers, HHS officials said.
 
"The centers will help providers identify the most appropriate technologies, help them purchase technologies in groups to reduce the price, help to install them, and help providers use them in accordance with meaningful use criteria," Blumenthal said. "We hope this will help providers with their workflow and therefore increase the quality of care available."
 
The centers initially will focus their efforts on primary care providers and small hospitals, he continued. "We think these are the types of providers who are not only important to the American people because they see large numbers of Americans, but they also are the least likely to be able to afford these services in the private market."
 
In addition to the $267 million, HHS also is making $25 million available for the centers to use in helping "critical access" hospitals -- those with 50 beds or less. "We recognize that small hospitals have an especially difficult time finding the resources and expertise to become adept at using health information technology," said Blumenthal. Any of the 60 extension centers can apply for this additional funding.
 
Farzad Mostashari, MD, senior adviser in the Office of the National Coordinator, said 50 to 60 people would be working at each center, with duties such as consulting at physician practices, doing telephone outreach, and addressing privacy and security issues. He emphasized that providers should seek help from the centers as early as possible during their search for an electronic health information system.
 
"Providers should get information and educate themselves, and when they're ready to move we strongly encourage them -- particularly primary care physicians -- to work with the extension center, from [before they] purchase all the way through," Mostashari said during the conference call. The most intensive work with the center probably would be at the beginning of the process, when practices are establishing work plans for implementing the new system, as well as during the actual deployment.
 
In his work with the extension centers, Mostashari said the biggest benefit he has seen from implementing health information technology has been "the transformative potential, where for the first time the provider is able to say, 'Of all the patients I have scheduled next week, how many need a flu shot?' and to set that up ahead of time instead of having to flip through the chart when the patient is in the room, or to reach out to the patients."
 
 
 
 
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