North Carolina AHEC Program
winter 2011 newsletter | home

More Than 1,500 Health Care Providers Enlist with NC Regional Extension Centers for Support on Electronic Health Records

Primary health care providers are essential to the health of the country, working on the front lines to prevent disease, detect it early and manage conditions before they become severe. The integration of health information technology into medical practices will improve quality and care coordination for patients everywhere they receive health care. Providers face many challenges when approaching Electronic Health Records (EHR) implementation, and NC AHEC’s priority is supporting providers in taking advantage of the full benefits of EHRs.

In the last several months, 62 organizations designated as Health Information Technology (HIT) Regional Extension Centers around the country have collectively enrolled more than 17,000 primary care providers to receive support on becoming meaningful users of EHRs. More than 1,500 of those providers are from North Carolina.

The North Carolina Regional Extension Center (REC) – headquartered at the North Carolina Area Health Education Centers Program Office (NC AHEC) at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – is the federally designated organization for the state. Using the nine regional centers of the NC AHEC system in North Carolina, the REC is uniquely positioned to reach out to primary care providers across the state.

Currently working with more than 1,500 providers to help ease this transition to EHRs, NC AHEC’s REC brings local expertise and support directly into primary care practices to help physicians and other health care providers with the necessary technical assistance for successful EHR implementation and meaningful use. The NC AHEC REC also serves as a direct pipeline to the national health information technology adoption program in support of individual primary care practices, critical access hospitals and federally qualified health centers.

The majority of the providers in North Carolina signed up to receive REC support are affiliated with small private practices (35%) or community health centers (30%), with many specializing in family practice or internal medicine. See Priority Primary Care Providers (PPCP) figure below.

NC AHEC REC Practice Types Graph

“Primary care providers, who are really the cornerstone of health care in this country, are presented with unique and complex challenges when it comes to implementing EHRs,” said Tom Bacon, DrPH, executive associate dean, UNC School of Medicine, and director, NC AHEC Program. “We know it’s difficult and we are committed to helping these clinicians throughout the entire process, and to integrating our REC services with the other educational, quality initiative and information resources we provide to them through AHEC. We share the same goal with our provider partners – to ensure the highest quality of care for patients and to optimize overall productivity and quality of work-life balance for providers and their staffs.”

The NC AHEC REC works with providers in the areas of HIT education and training, system selection or optimization, financial consultation and workflow redesign, among others. Ultimately, the REC aims to help providers achieve meaningful use objectives from the very beginning while maximizing EHR adoption incentives and minimizing financial and administrative burdens associated with implementing new electronic systems.

“The adoption of electronic medical records by medical providers is a very complicated process,” said John Torontow, MD, MPH, Piedmont Health Services, Siler City, NC. “Most practices will completely change the way they do everything to accommodate their new computer systems. This task alone is difficult enough, but in order to receive the federal stimulus money they must meet federal requirements for ‘Meaningful Use.’ That is a lot to worry about for a private practice already running on a very thin margin. The NC AHEC REC is their ace in the hole. Practices can take advantage of REC services from start to finish of their EHR roll out. They can help with the vendor selection process, the practice redesign, and ultimately the documentation of quality measures after implementation.”

Torontow continues, “I can not stress enough the value of their services, and encourage all practices considering EHR implementation to contact your regional AHEC to learn more. The information that they have provided to our organization has helped us move forward and to better understand what is involved in the ‘meaningful use’ incentives. If you practice in North Carolina, you do not want to get too far down the road to your EHR adoption before you talk to the folks at the NC REC.”

Medical practices are encouraged to act now and take advantage of REC’s expertise in providing scalable solutions for achieving EHR meaningful use. The federal government is committing unprecedented resources to supporting the adoption and meaningful use of EHRs, and this funding provides important support to achieve liftoff for the creation of a nationwide electronically-enabled health care system. Specifically, incentive payments totaling up to $44,000 (through Medicare) or $63,750 (through Medicaid) per eligible provider are being made available to clinicians that demonstrate meaningful use of EHRs.

About NC AHEC REC

The NC AHEC REC was awarded through an objective review process by the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), as the designated organization in North Carolina to support primary health care providers on EHR adoption and meaningful use.

The mission of AHEC is to meet the state’s health and health workforce needs by providing educational programs in partnership with academic institutions, health care agencies, and other organizations committed to improving the health of the people of North Carolina. Partners of the NC AHEC REC include: The Carolinas Center for Medical Excellence; The North Carolina Medical Society Foundation; The Institute for Public Health at UNC-Chapel Hill; and Community Care of North Carolina.

The NC AHEC REC is directed by Ann Lefebvre, MSW, CPHQ, associate director, statewide quality improvement, NC AHEC Program, with Sam Cykert, MD, as clinical director. Over 40 staff members are strategically placed across the nine AHEC regions of the state to serve the enrolled providers.

Additional Resources