News | December 13, 2011

Maine Regional Extension Center Meets Enrollment Target

While requiring providers contract with an EHR vendor and commit to HIE connection

The Maine Regional Extension Center (MEREC), operated by HealthInfoNet, is helping 1,000 of Maine's primary care providers become meaningful users of electronic health records (EHR). Collectively, these providers average over 4.4 million patient visits a year.

The MEREC is among the first RECs in the country to reach its enrollment target, made even more impressive by its unique model. "We're the only REC we know of that required providers to contract with a particular electronic health record (EHR) vendor before they could enroll," said Todd Rogow, Director of IT and the MEREC. Even though this made the enrollment process take a little longer, Rogow explained having this important step completed means Maine providers can move more quickly through the next two milestones and achieve meaningful use.

But for the MEREC, it isn't just about the milestones. "We focused on the bigger picture," said Shaun Alfreds, Chief Operating Officer at HealthInfoNet. He said that from the beginning the MEREC was offered as a resource to help providers navigate the different health IT programs and help them see how they all fit together to drive real quality improvement. "It's not just about EHRs or even meaningful use, it's about healthcare delivery transformation," said Alfreds.

Another reason Maine was able to hit the first milestone so quickly was its pricing model. The MEREC didn't charge anything for their services, and instead passed most of the federal money through to the vendors or provider practices themselves. The MEREC will continue to do so in the form of milestone payments. "There is an independent do-it-yourself culture in Maine, so we chose to provide our services at no cost," said Gemma Cannon, Maine REC Service Coordinator.

The MEREC also tailored its outreach, educational and support services to fit Maine's culture and geographic landscape. The MEREC did the majority of their outreach by phone and email and held monthly webinars archived on their website so that providers could learn about EHRs and the MEREC on their own time.

Now that all of Maine's enrolled providers have met milestone one (enrollment), MEREC staff will help these practices meet milestones two and three, which include implementing a certified EHR, meeting meaningful use stage one, and connecting to the statewide health information exchange (HIE), a requirement for enrolled providers to receive the third milestone payment. To make HIE connection viable for smaller practices, HealthInfoNet will not charge enrolled practices with 10 or fewer providers for the first year.

HealthInfoNet is the state-designated entity for HIE and launched Maine's statewide HIE in 2007. The HIE now contains records for more than one million of Maine's 1.3 million residents and has close to 3,000 registered clinical users. Connection to the HIE is one of the factors that drove many providers to enroll with the MEREC. One of those was Coastal Women's Healthcare, an independent women's health practice in Scarborough, Maine.

"Remaining independent in today's environment can be very challenging. One of the challenges is connectivity," said Bev Neugebauer, Executive Director at Coastal Women's Healthcare. "To best serve our patients, we need to be able to share information and collaborate with other providers in the community." Bev added that connection to the HIE will help them remain independent and better coordinate care of their patients.

Coastal Women's Healthcare was also one of the first MEREC practices to attest to meaningful use. "We want to set the gold standard for women's healthcare in Maine," said Bev. "Working with the Maine REC has helped us support that vision." She described how, at first, she and her colleagues thought they could attest to meaningful use on their own, but then quickly realized they needed some additional expertise. "As we started to read more about the measures, it was clear that we needed some help. We provide exceptional women's health services, but paperwork and federal regulations are not our strongpoint. So we turned to Gemma to help us." Gemma Cannon connected Bev with MEREC supported vendor, Arcadia Solutions, and together they walked Bev and her team through the process towards attestation.

The Office of National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) recently announced that the nationwide network of 62 RECs, are helping 100,000 primary care providers nationwide adopt and meaningfully use electronic health records to improve care.

"Providers throughout Maine have demonstrated a commitment to working with HealthInfoNet as a trusted advisor in the implementation and meaningful use of electronic health records," said Lisa-Nicole Danehy, REC Project Officer at ONC. "These Maine providers are part of the one-third of primary care providers nationwide who have committed to working with Regional Extension Centers in their journey towards meaningful use."

About HealthInfoNet
HealthInfoNet is an independent, nonprofit organization using health information technology to improve patient care quality and safety. The organization's core function is the management of a secure computer system, called a health information exchange, for doctors, hospitals and other caregivers to share important health information and improve patient care. The organization also serves as the Maine Regional Extension Center, helping primary care providers adopt and effectively use electronic health records. The organization is based in Portland, Maine and serves healthcare providers and their patients statewide.

SOURCE: HealthInfoNet