How IT Extension Centers Can Help Physicians Adopt Electronic Medical Records

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Small physician practices are less likely than large medical groups to have the resources needed to purchase health information technology (IT) systems to help them deliver safer, more efficient care to patients. In an <a href="/publications/journal-article/2010/apr/easing-adoption-and-use-electronic-health-records-small">article</a> in the new issue of <em>Health Affairs</em>, Commonwealth Fund–supported researchers report on ways in which the new regional extension centers authorized by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act can help these practices adopt electronic health records (EHRs) and redesign their systems to make the most effective use of the technology. <br /><br />To learn how health IT extension centers can be most effective, the study's authors, led by Phyllis Torda of the National Committee for Quality Assurance, reviewed 29 programs around the country that currently assist physician practices with EHR adoption and use. Practice consultants, they found, need to have direct experience working one-on-one with small practices, technical expertise in managing relationships with vendors, knowledge of software implementation, and an understanding of work-flow change and quality improvement methods. Currently there is a shortage of such experts, and program leaders report concern with finding sufficient qualified staff. <br /><br />According to the researchers, the new extension centers would be well served to combine practice redesign and quality improvement methods with EHR implementation support. In addition, they say it will be critical for the centers to help practices set realistic expectations about the implementation and funding that are available through federal incentive payments. <br />