“MEREC [the Maine Regional Extension Center] was really helpful with giving us tools to use to meet [meaningful use] criteria, providing information, and being there for support and questions,” said Kathryn Galbraith, MD, of Galbraith Family Medicine, LLC, in Limerick, Maine, who shared with PhysBizTech some of the REC services that she found to be most useful for her practice:
1. Simplifying the guidelines into manageable steps and keeping us on track with the timeline. For instance, there was guidance on running a quality measure (Core Measure #15). A deadline was provided and we had to "attest" that we ran a measure and which one.
2. Allowing us to exchange data electronically with them (Core Measure #12) and then providing an official statement of this fact, in case of an audit by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)
3. Giving us a heads-up on what we in Maine were capable of doing with the Maine Immpact (Immunization) Program and the Maine CDC and letting us know how best to show that we met this exclusion (Menu Measures #7 and 8). In our case, we found out that Maine Immpact and the Maine CDC were incapable of receiving data in the format used by our EHR, HL7 2.5. We used the information provided by the MEREC to show proof, should it be needed by CMS, that we fell into an exclusion category for these key measures.
4. Providing free webinars on various aspects of using an EHR to meet meaningful use. We participated in several of these and found them very informative.
5. Providing a free packet with template procedures to run our security assessment (Core Measure #14). This packet provided a terrific foundation and pointed out the complexities of meeting this measure.
6. Providing examples of the core elements needed in an electronically generated clinical summary of an office visit (Core Measure #7).
7. Providing access to a variety of other services that could be used in meeting meaningful use specifically, or, in our case, with moving forward using our EHR meaningfully to deliver better care. For instance, there were eight free hours of quality coaching available to us that we have been using in the longer term process of being involved in quality initiatives within our practice. We are working with them to improve our diabetes care, which also will apply toward meeting several quality measures as we move through the year-long application of Stage 1 meaningful use. Additionally, we were given access to a free professional security assessment of our health information technology. This was a more in-depth look at where we could improve the safeguarding of our patient's health information beyond the "basics" that we had done to meet meaningful use in 2011, and will serve to meet this measure this year. Finally, we were given the opportunity to sign on to the health information exchange, which will eventually allow our EHR to "talk" with other EHR's throughout the state. The first year is free, but we have not signed on yet because it seems that so few EHRs are yet able to do this type of "talking," and we didn't want to waste our free year.
8. Being available to help. We asked questions, made comments, and commiserated. MEREC has also been a great source for networking. In our case, we met another independent practitioner who has been struggling with the same challenges we face as a stand-alone practice trying to meet all these requirements and still trying to take care of our patients and earn a living.
Please see the companion article “Why it makes sense to work with your REC” for a broader look at the services offered by some RECs.