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March 15, 2012
TOPEKA The regional extension center created two years ago to help Kansas health care providers implement electronic health records has received extended funding from the federal government.
But for now, the center won't be able to sign up additional providers to receive subsidized assistance.
The Kansas Regional Extension Center (REC) received a $9.2 million grant in 2010 to assist "priority providers" — those who work in small practices, critical access hospitals, rural health clinics, community health centers or other settings that serve the medically underserved.
So far, it has drawn down about half of the grant dollars. On Feb. 27, the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for health information technology notified the Kansas REC that it had achieved an "overall positive outcome," meaning that it can continue to draw on the grant through Feb. 7, 2014.
The REC receives funds as it meets various ONC goals en route to helping providers reach "meaningful use" of electronic health records.
In December, the REC reached its goal of signing up 1,200 priority providers, meaning additional providers could not sign up for federally subsidized assistance.
REC Director Michael Aldridge said the funding extension does not change the REC's goals or number of priority providers it can sign up — it simply means the REC now has two more years to help those already signed up reach meaningful use.
However Aldridge said he's been talking with federal officials about the possibility of subsidies for additional Kansas providers.
"There still may be an opportunity and that's something I'm in discussions with ONC about," he said. "If some of the folks who have signed with me aren't going to make it to 'meaningful use,' can I reallocate those funds and help other people?"
"I will tell you that we are signing additional docs every week who are paying us market value (for REC services). So we've achieved one of our other goals, which is to become the most qualified (health information technology) experts in the state," he said.
As of Feb. 29:
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