Many Medicare recipients and individuals living in low-income communities rely on community health centers for comprehensive health services. Starting in 2010, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology authorized 62 regional extension centers (RECs). This task was mainly focused on providing EHR software assistance to individual and small practices and providers located in medically underserved communities.
According to the ONC, 83 percent of federally qualified health centers associated with the Health Resources and Services Administration have already enrolled in RECs. These providers are diverse and cover a vast array of services, including speech language pathology, dentistry, social work, psychiatry and psychology, optometry, occupational and speech therapy, chiropractic services and dietetic services, among others.
EHRs prove beneficial for community health centers
Based on a study conducted by the Florida Association of Community Health Centers, there are many benefits related to medical software and EHRs. Unlike private practices, community health centers and other FQHCs cannot use EHR technology for coding or revenue increases, so much of their success with these advancements is demonstrated with quality improvement measures.
The research looked at six community health centers with EHRs across six states. Financial benefits were mostly attributed to efficiency gains, especially when it came to reduced medical record and transcription costs. However, the most noted benefits came from EHR software's use in quality improvement. All community health centers involved in the study used EHRs for basic issues like lab results, medications and coded lists for patient issues. Five of the six centers also utilized the registry to help in preventative care and chronic disease management. Data capture, reminders at the point of care, patient lists of those needed services and performance reports all contributed to success in quality improvements. Other benefits included data and analysis tools to obtain new grants and research funding. Overall, EHR technology gave clear benefits both to patients and payer stakeholders.
Incentive programs for EHRs
Many FQHCs will need to demonstrate meaningful use attestation for Medicare recipients, and Medicaid also has its own incentive program with EHRs. With intelligent medical software, standards and implementation specifications can allow FQHCs to obtain the incentive payments that they need to comply with these programs' criteria. So far, millions of dollars in payments have been issued to providers that have attested to this type of technology, especially since the HITECH Act passed along with other major health care reforms in 2009.