The 62 regional health IT extension centers (RECs) currently funded and operated through the Office of the National Coordinator have formed an association of their own. The Association of Regional Centers for Health Information Technology (ARCH-IT) will advocate for the existing federation of RECs -- and the needs of the independent healthcare providers that RECs serve in every state.
The association aims to support and complement ongoing activity in the health IT environment and create sustainable organizations to promote health IT integration in clinical practices.
At this point, there is no scheduled federal support for the extension center program beyond 2013, yet small practices will continue to have to tackle major health IT challenges and operational reform, according to Jonathan Fuchs, of the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care and ARCH-IT’s president.
As of April 2012, more than 140,000 providers had enrolled in the extension center programs nationwide; more than 77,000 have installed an EHR; and nearly 11,500 have already demonstrated “meaningful use” of EHR technology.
“In the short time they have been operational, RECs have become trusted advisors for the health care providers they serve and play a crucial role in helping small practices adapt to the rapidly evolving healthcare environment,” said Lisa K. Rawlins, of the South Florida Regional Extension Center, and ARCH-IT’s vice president.
The need for trusted advisors like the extension centers will only grow, said Greg Schieke, of the Nebraska/Wide River Technology Extension Center, and ARCH-IT’s treasurer. “In the near future, these small practices will see significant changes affecting all aspects of their performance: from revamped payment models to Stage 2 and 3 of meaningful use, and from privacy and security compliance to the transition to ICD-10,” he explained.
REC programs are modeled on the Agriculture Department’s long-standing cooperative extension center program, which offers technical assistance to farmers to improve their operations.