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EHR loan program targets practices in underserved areas

Funding will help those along a stretch of the Mississippi River meet stage 1 of meaningful use.

By Pamela Lewis Dolan — Posted Dec. 4, 2012

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Recognizing that many practices in underserved areas may be behind in adopting electronic health records, the American Health Information Management Assn. has teamed up with the Delta Regional Authority to provide loans to help those physicians.

The revolving loans of up to $7,500 are available to practices in medically underserved areas or health provider shortage areas in the 250-county region along the Delta region of the Mississippi River. The region includes portions of Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee. The money is supposed to help practices meet the up-front costs of EHR adoption as they await incentive payments.

Along the Delta region, EHR adoption rates average 30% with a range from 16% in Louisiana to 37% in Arkansas. “Compare that to the national average of about 40%, we know we do have a little disparity,” said Desla Mancilla, senior director of academic affairs with the AHIMA Foundation, the charitable affiliate of AHIMA.

”The real root issue is that in rural communities they don’t have access to the same resources, and, really, they’re not paid attention to as much by the vendor community,” Mancilla said.

AHIMA will identify practices with five or fewer physicians in the rural communities as well as vendors that would be a good fit for them. AHIMA also will provide health IT training, a prerequisite for the practices to receive the loans. The Delta Regional Authority, which Congress created in 2000 to enhance economic development along the region, will provide the funding (link).

Thanks to the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology established 62 regional extension centers across the country. The goal for RECs was to help at least 100,000 primary care physicians achieve meaningful use by reaching practices in rural and underserved communities. Mancilla said that although the RECs have reached a large number of physicians, some very small practices in rural areas may have slipped through the cracks.

According to data provided by the ONC, 14,200 practices in rural areas helped by RECs have gone live with an EHR, 2,542 of which have met stage 1 of meaningful use. Overall, 23,625 practices in underserved areas helped by RECs have adopted an EHR, of which 4,954 met stage 1.

Some RECs partnered with statewide community development organizations to provide EHR loans. Other states, such as North Carolina, have loan programs managed through their state health and human services departments. Several EHR vendors, such as GE Healthcare and Siemens, announced vendor financing options after the meaningful use program was launched in 2009.

Participation in most of these loan programs, including the Delta-AHIMA program, is contingent on the practice being eligible for meaningful use. Mancilla said when a practice gets the incentive check, it will repay the loan and thereby make money available for the next practice. A total of $450,000 has been set aside for the program.

To participate, practices must:

  • Practice in a medically underserved area or health provider shortage area, designated by the Health Services and Resource Administration within the DRA’s eight-state region.
  • Have an Internet connection and use an electronic billing system.
  • Be a practice group of one to five health care professionals, a community health center or a federally qualified health center.
  • Be eligible to receive meaningful use incentives, as defined by the HITECH Act.

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