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

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.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.


  • I’m not sure that additional funding for the Regional Extension Centers is the best use of taxpayer incentive dollars. While the work the RECs are doing is absolutely critical, the influence of some (certainly not all) RECs has already peaked. Our experience working with ambulatory independent practices and those recently acquired by hospital and large group systems tells us that these adopters of EHR need more than system selection and implementation support. They need, and will continue to need for the next 12 to 36 months the support of EHR specialists who can assist with template customization and overall system optimization. They particularly need support with patient portal functionality, not internally, but supporting the patient base. They also need help melding their EHR optimization with payment reform (Patient Centered Medical Home, Accountable Care Organization) programs and requirements. That can require ongoing intensive consulting.

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