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HITECH Priority Grants Program Rollout: Next Steps Toward Nationwide Health Information Exchange

David Blumenthal, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, recently announced the rollout of the first two in a series of HITECH priority grant programs which represents a critical step forward in laying the groundwork for meaningful use of electronic health records (EHRs). These programs will offer valuable help to health care providers in the selection and incorporation of EHRs into clinical practice, and for states and their designates to assure that statewide information exchange is developed with the goal of nationwide connectivity across the health care system. Successful adoption and meaningful use of EHRs requires that providers have the help and guidance they need to select, implement, and maintain a certified EHR system. Also, the various local, statewide, and regional systems need to work together, regardless of location and differing state and federal standards or policies, to enhance patient care.

The HITECH Act authorizes a Health Information Technology Extension Program, consisting of Regional Extension Centers (Regional Centers) and a national Health Information Technology Research Center (HITRC). This funding opportunity announcement seeks applications from qualified organizations to serve as Regional Centers within the Extension Program. The Regional Centers will offer technical assistance, guidance, and information on best practices to support and promote health care providers’ efforts to become meaningful users of Electronic Health Records (EHRs). The Extension Program will establish an estimated 70 or more Regional Centers, each serving a defined geographic area. The Regional Centers will support at least 100,000 primary care providers, through participating non-profit organizations, in achieving meaningful use of EHRs and building nationwide capacity for connectivity between and among health care providers. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis in 2010 and federal support will continue for four years, with the expectation that the Regional Centers will be largely self-sustaining by the end of December 2012 with minimal need for federal support in the last two years of the program.

The second grant program will involve the awarding of cooperative agreements over the next several months through the State Health Information Exchange Cooperative Agreement Program, to support states and/or State Designated Entities (SDEs) in developing mechanisms for information sharing across the health care system in their jurisdiction. Such efforts at the state level will help achieve widespread and sustainable health information exchange (HIE) within and among states, through the meaningful use of certified electronic health records (EHRs). State programs to promote HIE will help to realize the full potential of EHRs to improve the coordination, efficiency, and quality of care. State plans must also address the needs of special populations and demographics within the state, including the elderly, persons with disabilities, the medically underserved, etc. States and SDEs will be required to match grant awards beginning in 2011.

Together, the grants will offer much-needed local and regional assistance and technical support to providers while enabling coordination and alignment within and among states, ultimately allowing information to follow patients anywhere within the health care system. In order to achieve nationwide use of EHRs, patients must have confidence that their electronic personal health information is private and secure. The technology to secure this information exists and is constantly improving.

To learn more about the HITECH priority grants program and application requirements, please visit http://healthit.hhs.gov/HITECHgrants. Links to information about other NLM grant programs, as well as NN/LM PSR regional funding opportunities, are listed on the “Funding” section of the NN/LM PSR web site.

Editor’s note: The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) is the principal Federal entity charged with coordination of nationwide efforts to implement and use advanced health information technology and the electronic exchange of health information. The position of National Coordinator was created in 2004, through an Executive Order, and legislatively mandated in the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act [HITECH Act] of 2009. ONC is organizationally located within the Office of the Secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). For more information, go to http://healthit.hhs.gov.

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