ONC Wants 1,000 More Smaller Hospitals To Be Meaningful Users

Posted on October 12, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

As I’ve written about here in the past, small rural/critical access hospitals are struggling to keep up with Meaningful Use. These hospitals — typically 50 beds or less — are isolated, underfunded, short on staff and clinicians and sometimes without affordable connectivity options.

That’s a shame, because having telemedical functions and EMR connectivity may be far more important for these hospitals than for big academic or urban behemoths. In situations where the nearest specialist may be a day’s drive away, being able to communicate and collaborate with remote specialists can be a lifesaver.

Aware of these concerns, ONC has launched a campaign intended to get 1,000 critical access and small rural hospitals meaningfully using certified EMR technology by the end of 2014.

To help small hospitals get their legs under them, ONC has committed to spending up to $30 million for Regional Extension Centers targeting these facilities.  Though ONC is shooting for 1,000 new Meaningful User hospitals , it’s willing to fund services for up to 1,501  of them. That would bring the total to more than 2,700 rural/critical access hospitals on the MU roster.

The obvious question, given the obstacles the smaller facilities face, is just how realistic ONC’s expectations are. Sure, getting them hooked up with REC services is a good thing, but is it enough to get them across the finish line?

One comment on the ONC blog had this to say on the subject of the CAH/rural hospital campaign:

The best chance for success (in my humble opinion), is a joint effort between public (REC) and private sectors. There are consulting firms with specific MU experience sitting on the bench that can provide incredible value to this process. The RECs are trying to keep up with demand while servicing thousands of ambulatory providers. If there is a way to facilitate collaboration between pubic & private sectors in a way that fosters success of this initiative, that would ensure the ONC would hit their goal of 1,000 hospitals to MU by 2014. 

I think the poster is on to something. While the RECs are fine, and have the best of intentions, they’ve already got their hands full. Whether it’s a public/private partnership, an assist from state government, additional grants or other mechanisms, I think it will take more than REC funding to get the job done here.