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Sept. 18, 2012
TOPEKA The regional extension center created two years ago to help Kansas health care providers implement electronic patient records is to be spun off over the next year by its parent organization, the Kansas Foundation for Medical Care.
The new non-profit consulting firm — called Synōvim — will absorb all 15 staff members from the Kansas Regional Extension Center by the time the REC's federal funding runs out September 30, 2013, said REC director Michael Aldridge.
Aldridge — who has been named Synōvim's chief executive — said that setting up a firm wholly independent of KFMC would allow his staff to continue helping Kansas providers beyond federal funding while avoiding a perceived conflict of interest with KFMC.
In 2010, the REC was set up under KFMC with a $9.2 million grant to help small practices, critical access hospitals and others that provide care to the medically underserved reach "Stage I Meaningful Use" of electronic health records.
"As we move doctors to Stage I Meaningful Use, that essentially closes out our REC contract with them," Aldridge said.
"What we're finding is that doctors are saying 'You guys are great to work with, can you help us with...Meaningful Use Stage II?' Of course we want to say — and we have been saying — 'absolutely yes we can.' The difference is, once we're done with Meaningful Use Stage I, then the physicians actually have to pay us to cover our costs," he said.
The potential for a conflict of interest stems from KFMC's primary role as the state's quality improvement organization, which monitors the health care provided to Medicare beneficiaries.
As the REC begins to receive direct payments from providers for consulting on electronic health records systems, those payments should not be perceived to affect KFMC's role in Medicare oversight, Aldridge said.
"If then (KMFC) were also to receive a complaint and have to go in and do a case review of (a provider that paid for REC consulting), one might make the argument that we have at least a perceived conflict of interest."
About half of the 62 regional extension centers in the U.S. are affiliated with a quality improvement organization, Aldridge said, and to continue operations must submit a conflict of interest mitigation plan to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Initially, Synōvim's seven-member leadership board will have three KFMC representatives. After two years, those positions must be filled with members unaffiliated with KFMC under a transition plan approved by CMS, which funds Medicare oversight contractors like KFMC.
Three other Synōvim board positions will have representatives from the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved, which represents the safety-net clinics.
The seventh board position has yet to be filled by appointment from the other six board members, who are:
KAMU has contracted with the REC since its inception to provide assistance to safety-net clinics in setting up electronic health records. Using a $385,000 grant from the Kansas Health Foundation, KAMU helped extend the reach of REC services via a 9-to-1 federal match. (The Kansas Health Foundation also funds KHI News Service through a grant to the Kansas Health Institute.)
KAMU chief executive Cathy Harding said her organization had considered starting a similar service on its own, and decided partnering with KFMC to launch Synōvim made more sense.
"It's an exciting venture," Harding said. "We're thrilled to be working with KFMC on this new initiative, and I think Synōvim is going to have a tremendous amount to offer for the IT needs in the future, which are changing all the time."
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